June 30, 2010
Kangaroo Court, with Brad Ziegler
Kangaroo courts are a time-honored tradition in baseball, not only at the big-league level, but also down on the farm. In this latest installment of Minor Issues, Oakland reliever Brad Ziegler returns to talk about his own kangaroo-court experiences.
The team I was on in 2007, in Sacramento, won the PCL title, and it was the only team I’ve been on that participated in a full kangaroo court all season. Lou Merloni was our kangaroo-court judge, and I don’t know that you could have a better teammate than Lou. Every time we play in Boston he comes down to the locker room to see his old teammates. Such a great guy with a fantastic sense of humor.
That season, the kangaroo-court experience really brought our team together. No one was above it, and Lou would even fine himself all the time. There were guidelines that had to be followed, and it didn’t matter if you were a coach, a player—anybody that was around was a target. We’d do kangaroo courts about once a month, or maybe every six weeks, and it was just a big lift for everybody emotionally. It would carry us for a few days afterward because we’d be telling stories about it, including all the funny things Lou would say. He’d always wear this tie-dye jersey that was from a promo the River Cats had once. Lou went into his closet and dug out this tie-dye jersey, and that was his judge’s robe, and he’d find something to use for a gavel. There were rules about what you could and couldn’t say, like "no cursing in the courtroom." Even when Lou himself didn’t address people the right way, he’d whack the gavel and say, “Two bucks for me for not saying Mr. (insert name)!” It was just non-stop. We got to the point where we were really filling the fine box—all fines were written down anonymously and submitted in a shoebox—just because kangaroo court was so much fun. It got to that point that you almost couldn’t get away with anything.
I think that I probably pitched in $50 or so that year. I was fined frequently because that was my first true experience at Triple-A and being around guys who’d had big-league time. It was my first learning experience of how the game was supposed to be played and what was acceptable for rookies and what wasn’t. One thing I got fined for was showing up late for the season. That’s what they called it when I got promoted from Double-A to Triple-A—they said I was showing up late and messing up team chemistry. Guys who got sent back down to Triple-A from the big leagues also got fined, because they couldn’t stick.
I also got fined for having eleven toes—I have six on my right foot. They were actually going to give me a credit for having that many toes. I got a fine that I defended pretty well—typically, if you contested a fine, it would result in the fine doubling if you were still found guilty—but Lou said, “We’re still going to fine you, but we’ll keep it small -- two-dollar fine, but we'll give you a four-dollar credit if you show everybody the six toes on your right foot!” So I took my shoe off, and Jeremy Brown, who was sitting right next to me, whacks the top and table and says, “OK, Zig, get that foot up on the table; get it up here for everybody to see!” I did, and Lou whacks his gavel and says, “Two dollar fine for putting your foot on the table in the middle of the clubhouse!”
We used the money we raised in kangaroo court that year to make a donation to Scott Coolbaugh’s family after he was killed. Once that incident happened, our priorities changed, and we really elevated the fines. We doubled them, because they were going to a really worthy cause, which was to help out a family that is deeply-entrenched in the baseball community. Also, at that point, guys pretty much stopped contesting the fines because it was going to such a great cause. Ultimately, kangaroo court was one of those things that we used to bring us together as a team, which it definitely did, but at the same time we tried to do good with the money.