No mercy for players in Kangaroo Court EfB

July 06, 1991

Defendant: Vince Coleman. Crime: Allowing an opposing player to borrow his glove. Verdict: Guilty, of course.

Welcome to another session of the Kangaroo Court.

Star or scrub, bus driver or batboy, no one is above baseball's bizarre bastion of justice. And nothing goes unnoticed -- missing a sign, tripping on a foul line, wearing an ugly suit.

Sometimes, it doesn't take much. In 1983, New York Yankees judge Don Baylor fined coach Don Zimmer. Why?

"Just for being Don Zimmer," Baylor said.

Once, San Francisco manager Roger Craig was fined for getting a taxi receipt after another passenger paid the fare. The New York Mets recently fined Alejandro Pena for prematurely shaking hands with Dave Magadan, thinking the game was over. Houston's Steve Finley, after helping beat New York, was fined for turning traitor and appearing on the Mets' postgame radio show.

Coleman also was charged with conspiracy. Early this season, he lent his glove to San Francisco's Willie McGee, a former teammate, who had his equipment stolen at Shea Stadium. Coleman was docked $10 for each ball McGee caught. Total cost: $30.

Laughs aside, these meetings create a forum for team issues.

"I think it's a good idea. It deals with the nickel-and-dime stuff that the manager just doesn't want to deal with sometimes," St. Louis manager Joe Torre said.

Often, the issues aren't such small change.

Cleveland's Albert Belle was sent to the minors after not running out a ground ball. The Indians soon after established a "court" for guidance.

"We'll take care of it if it happens again," Indians catcher Sandy Alomar Jr. said. "If he doesn't run, it's going to cost him a lot of money. The manager won't have to say a thing. Everyone will tell it to his face."

But, as Baylor admits: "Every team can't do this type of thing. Guys have to be able to accept criticism in fun, but I think it's something that helps bring a team closer together."

The proceedings may all be in good humor, but the judges take their appointed rounds seriously.

"I didn't want any foul language in my court," Tom Foley, Montreal's arbiter, said. "No talking out of turn."

Baylor, formerly a judge in Oakland, Baltimore, Boston and New York, also ruled with an iron hand.

He leveled Oakland's Mark McGwire with a charge of "not dressing up to major-league standards."

"Ralph Lauren would not have been proud," Baylor, now a Milwaukee coach, said. "Stripes one way with stripes the other way, a tie with a leather jacket. . . . Oh, God. If I had stayed around here, he wouldn't have any money."

The judges are nominated by their predecessors. Baylor was chosen as a young player in 1972.

"I took over from Frank Robinson at Baltimore, who was in charge at the time," Baylor said. "Frank was tough, but fair."

Robinson set up shop after a trade from Cincinnati before the 1966 season. He was credited with giving everyone a sense of team unity.

Even the batboy.

Jay Mazzone was no ordinary batboy. His hands were so severely burned in an accident when he was 2 years old that they had to be amputated. He did his job, from 1967 through '72, with metal hooks. He and Robinson were good friends, but several players didn't know how to treat Mazzone at first.

"Frank Robinson broke the ice," Mazzone said. "He was running his kangaroo court and calling a vote among the players, whether to fine somebody or not."

"It was either thumbs up or thumbs down. After the vote he said, 'Jay, you're fined for not voting.' Everybody laughed. After that, I was treated just like everybody else. Somebody even made a big cardboard hand with a thumb," said Mazzone, "so I could take part in future votes."

There is a sense of courtroom calm among the craziness. Judges, like Daryl Boston of the Mets, wear a mop top and ceremonial robes. There are juries of peers, fines, appeals.

Well, not many appeals.

"Sure, they could appeal, but if they lose, they pay double the original fine," Foley said.

Ron Guidry didn't want a trial. He knew he was going to be guilty.

"If a pitcher gave up a hit on an 0-2 count, they would fine him $25 a base," Baylor recalled. "Once, Guidry gave $100 before the season started because he said he throws strikes even on 0-2 counts, and this would be a down payment."

Records are kept so no one escapes unscathed.

"We usually appoint a secretary, who keeps account of all violations and fines. All fines must be paid before the next game," Foley said.

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