Judicial review: Ribald Brewers' kangaroo court fades into baseball's past
At some point this season, most likely after the final out is recorded on a road "getaway day" (baseball lingo for the final game of a series), Milwaukee Brewers rookie players will walk into the clubhouse and discover that their street clothes have been stolen and replaced with bizarre costumes.
One might be a Hooters girl. Another might be a fairy princess. You might see a cheerleader heading for the team bus alongside a caveman, a pimp or Ronald McDonald.
Nobody knows exactly when this rookie hazing ritual began, but it has been a staple of clubhouse life for years and it doesn't show any signs of dying anytime soon.
In that way, it is the opposite of the kangaroo court.
"You really don't see kangaroo court any more these days," Brewers first base coach Dave Nelson said before a recent game. "You know where you see it? At fantasy camp. I did a fantasy camp a few years ago and we did one. That's about the only place you see it now."
According to Dictionary.com, the phrase "kangaroo court" has two definitions:
1. A mock court set up in violation of established legal procedure.
2. A court characterized by dishonesty or incompetence.
When it comes to baseball, those definitions are accurate and almost interchangeable. Years ago, every clubhouse had a suggestion box on the wall with the words "court cases" (or a variation) scribbled on the outside. It was here that players would write up their teammates for transgressions that occurred both on and off the field. The Kangaroo Court would convene occasionally and the cases would be heard by the "judge," who was often the player with the most seniority, the best sense of humor or a combination of the two -- and a jury of veteran teammates who would levy fines. Money collected often would go to charity, a team party or both.
"I remember in the 1970s, George Scott was our judge," Brewers bench coach Robin Yount said, referring to the popular first baseman known as "Boomer."
"That was funny. He used to wear a black robe and a white wig. Can you imagine that? I don't think anybody ever got a picture like that."
Secret tribunals are seldom photographed. And, they are seldom as banal -- and hilarious -- as baseball's venerable kangaroo courts routinely were 25 years ago.
The cases ranged from on-field mental errors -- throwing to the wrong base or failing to tag up on a fly ball or spitting tobacco juice on one's jersey -- to off-field things like wearing a questionable suit, eating while naked in the clubhouse, spilling a drink on the plane or just about anything else.
"Any little thing, they would get on you for it," said Brewers bullpen coach Bill Castro, who played for three clubs in a 10-year big-league carer. "If you wore an ugly shirt or bought some ugly clothes, they'd fine you. If you called your wife, that was a fine.
"The rookies always got the shaft. Them and Gumby (infielder Jim Gantner) were always the guys taking the most heat, but sooner or later everybody got it. Anything you did that was stupid, they'd bring it on you."
Bill Schroeder, the Brewers' former catcher and current TV analyst, agreed.
"One of the biggest fines was for public displays of affection," he said. "If a guy was seen sucking face with someone on the dance floor, that was a big one. There were lots of other ones, though."
The biggest fines often came from fraternizing with players from the other team before a game.
"That was the biggest one," Yount said. "You were always watching guys for that. You had one minute to say hello to somebody. There was always somebody on the watch."
If court was still in session today, a lot of players and coaches would be forfeiting a lot of their salary for fraternization fines.
"Everybody is friends now," Yount said. "It's a lot different now."
OK, so talking to the "enemy" is no longer a taboo. Aren't there other things that players could take to a higher kangaroo court? Why is the tradition going the way of the twi-night doubleheader?
"I think the last time we had kangaroo court (with the Brewers) was around 1998 or '99," veteran infielder Jeff Cirillo said. "I remember because (Bob) Wickman, the team's closer, was getting on (catcher) Bobby Hughes and they almost got into a fight. I remember Hughes saying, "You want a piece of me?!" I think that was the last time we had it."
Catcher Damian Miller experienced kangaroo court while playing for Oakland in 2004.
"We probably had it four or five times that year," Miller said. "Huddy (pitcher Tim Hudson) was in charge of it and it was always a great time. Eric Byrnes was way ahead of everybody (in fines). He just got beat down. He always had a rebuttal, but he'd take a beating. It was a lot of fun and I think it was good for the team. I really wish we would do it around here."
Given the cutting nature of trying cases, it's natural to assume that current players are too thin-skinned to handle the give and take of kangaroo court. While admitting that may be an element, Brewers coaches didn't feel that was the only reason.
"I don't think they know anything about it," Castro said. "Nobody has really brought it up. Some of the young kids don't know."Page 1 of 2 (view all on one page)
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