Thursday, February 23, 2012

Kangaroo Court (per Jason Turnbow's book "The Baseball Codes")

(The following is from the Jason Turnbow book entitled "The Baseball Codes.")

A careful concoction of veteran status and on-field performance helps determine the upper end of any pecking order, and clubhouse culture rewards those at the top of the food chain.

Kangaroo court, baseball's informal clubhouse version of the judicial system- regular convenings of the team in which ballpark justice is meted out to any reprobate member by a jury of his peers.

Players are kept in line for both on-field and off-field indiscretions through a system of small fines and good-natured ridicule from their teammates.  No offense is too small.

After the 1970 World Series, Brooks Robinson, whose performance was so spectacular- he hit .429 and played like a "Human Vacuum" at third base- that Frank Robinson eventually fined him for showboating. 

Courts are generally made up of a judge (who must possess a strong personality and even sharper wit), a secretary (who records the charges, which can be brought up by any member of the team against any other member of the team, as long as a witness is procured), and a treasurer (who collects and holds the fine money- traditionally between $5 and $100 a pop- which at the end of a season is sometimes donated to charity and sometimes used for a blowout party).

"The kangaroo code is you can never win, "  Oscar Gamble.  (Gamble was a lifetime .265 hitter with 200 career home runs.)

In the Orioles clubhouse, Frank Robinson initiated Don Baylor into the system after the 21-year old boasted to a reporter that he'd break into the starting lineup as soon as he got "into the groove."  Baylor was fined and tagged with the nickname "Groove."  He had to suffer the indignity of spending virtually the entire season in the minors.
(Note:  Don Baylor, along with RHP-Mike Torrez were traded from the Orioles to the Oakland A's for Kenny Holtzman (LHP) and (OF) Reggie Jackson on April 2, 1976.)

Yankees coach Don Zimmer was fined simply for being Don Zimmer.

Tiger pitcher, Jim Price, recalled a teammate who was fined because his date "could eat corn through a picked fence."

The Kansas City Royals would give a gong (the one from the Gong Show, courtesy of first-baseman Pete LaCock, whose father was Peter Marshall, the emcee of the Hollywood Squares) to a player voted a red ass by the kangaroo court.

The Milwaukee Brewers awarded their star of the game a 3-foot rubber phallus, which was placed in his locker for the duration of the post-game activity.  It didn't garner much notice until 1987, when Juan Nieves threw a no-hitter.  "He had this thing hanging in his locker, just dangling there," said Brewers catcher Bill Schroeder.  "So here's ESPN and everybody interviewing him, and you see this thing hanging over his shoulder.  Then you see a hand reach in and grab it and pull it away.  It was GM Harry Dalton!  That was our kangaroo court, and it was the funniest thing in the world."

Normal people have therapy, ballplayers have the practical joke.

Bert Blyleven was the master of the craft of the "hot foot."  For a time, the fire extinguisher in the Angels' clubhouse read:  "In case of Blyleven, Pull."

Sixto Lezcano, as a rookie, was given an all-green wardrobe for one of his team's West Coast swings- green pants, shirt, coat, socks, shoes.  ("I looked like a fucking grasshopper," said the Sixto kid.

Jim Davenport estimates that in the 1950s a player had to accumulate at least 400-ABs before he was allowed so much as to speak up in the presence of veterans.

Says Doug Mienkiewicz, "If you can't be mentally strong enough to wear a dress for one day when evey other rookie is, too, then you're probably not going to be mentally strong enough to handle an o-for-35 stretch in four different cities."

That's the only way to look at baseball's silly pranks.

(thanks to Jason Turnbow for my being able to share a couple of stories)

Kevin J. Marquez