ATLANTA - The Atlanta Braves placed pitching coach Roger McDowell on administrative leave Friday while they investigate allegations that he made homophobic comments and crude gestures toward fans before a game in San Francisco last weekend.
McDowell also is accused of using a baseball bat to threaten a fan who objected to his actions.
The former major league reliever apologized in a statement, but the team barred him from the bench heading into a three-game series against St. Louis.
The Braves' minor league pitching coordinator, Dave Wallace, will take over for McDowell. Major League Baseball has said it's waiting to hear from the team before deciding on possible penalties.
The de facto suspension of McDowell came just hours after the team announced it was looking into the arrest Thursday night of starting pitcher Derek Lowe on drunken-driving charges, a double dose of trouble for a team that has always prided itself on avoiding off-the-field incidents.
The altercation at AT&T Park in San Francisco took place last Saturday during pregame batting practice. Justin Quinn was in the stands with his wife and 9-year-old twin daughters when he noticed McDowell hectoring three men and asking them, "Are you guys a homo couple or a threesome?"
After the coach made crude sexual gestures with his hips and a bat, Quinn said he shouted, "Hey there are kids out here." According to Quinn, McDowell said kids don't belong at a baseball park, picked up a bat, walked up to Quinn and asked him, "How much are your teeth worth?"
Quinn said he felt threatened and was unsure whether McDowell intended to hit him.
"My kids are in panic mode ... they're like grabbing onto me," Quinn said Wednesday during a news conference at the office of prominent Los Angeles attorney Gloria Allred. "I'm talking to him, trying to calm him down and the kids are screaming."
Some parents who were in the stands with their children began to boo at McDowell and came down to retrieve their kids. Quinn said that eventually McDowell walked away.
"I am deeply sorry that I responded to the heckling fans in San Francisco," McDowell said in a statement, his only public comment on the matter. "I apologize to everyone for my actions."
Baseball commissioner Bud Selig called the allegations "very troubling" while awaiting the results of the team's investigation.
The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation called on the Braves and Major League Baseball must take "real disciplinary action and send the message that anti-gay slurs have no place in sports."
"Professional sporting events should be an environment that all fans and families can enjoy, not a place where children are exposed to violent threats and discriminatory language," the alliance's president, Jarrett Barrios, said.
McDowell was a star reliever with the Mets and Philadelphia Phillies, playing a key role on New York's World Series-winning club in 1986. He has been Atlanta's pitching coach since 2005, earning praise for his work in developing young hurlers Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens.