Yankees hold kangaroo court
Players, coaches playfully dole out own brand of justice
NEW YORK -- For two months, Xavier Nady dutifully collected scraps of paper in a shoebox tucked near the back of his locker -- clubhouse infractions reported by his teammates, waiting for the day when the Yankees would call those offenses to trial.
Kangaroo court finally arrived in the Bronx for the Yankees on Wednesday, as the players, coaches and staff assembled in a back room of Yankee Stadium and doled out their own brand of justice for the silly events that have popped up over the first 39 games of the season.
"It's a lot of fun," Nady said. "Hopefully it gets better. It's just entertaining how people plead their cases. That's the best part."
Their timing was good, considering the Yankees' high spirits on a seven-game winning streak. With the Honorable Mariano Rivera presiding as judge, Nady took on the role of secretary and stenographer, and Derek Jeter, A.J. Burnett and Johnny Damon were selected as jury members.
Kangaroo courts are not a new concept in professional sports, but they are with the Yankees, who have not had one since at least 1995.
"I've never had it in the big leagues or the Minor Leagues," Jeter said. "I don't know the reason why. I don't think there's a particular reason. It's not like it's an anti-Yankee thing. It just hasn't happened."
The tone of the hour-plus session -- which also involved clubhouse workers, video coordinators and other support staff -- was light-hearted. For example, Phil Coke's wallet was $30 lighter as a result of the home run he served up to the Twins' Joe Mauer on Friday in New York.
Coke pointed to the drive off the bat, thinking it was a fly ball that could be easily tracked by center fielder Brett Gardner, but the ball carried out and hit the netting over Monument Park. Coke was pointing while running to back up third base and his actions were not overlooked.
"You can get fined for pretty much anything," Coke said.
There was one night in Detroit where Nick Swisher agreed to a postgame television interview without putting his shirt on first. Burnett noticed and promptly reported Swisher for a $20 fine.
Brian Bruney was forced to dig into his pocket to atone for his haircut -- not the fact that he is completely shaved, but rather the fact Bruney had his haircut during a game in Toronto while he was on the disabled list.
Third-base coach Rob Thomson had a clear-cut violation for the night he pushed Swisher back to third base, and Joba Chamberlain said he also couldn't escape being fined.
"It was fun, it was interesting," Chamberlain said. "You don't realize half of the stuff until it gets brought up. Then you're like, 'I really did that?' And then you feel like an idiot."
Damon was among the players fined $100 for showing up late to court, blaming New York City traffic.
"There's no excuse on traffic," Damon said. "But I'll keep it quiet. If I divulge information, I could get another fine."
But no penalty was crueler than Alex Rodriguez being hit for being late ... for the season, arriving on May 8 due to injury. Rivera banged his gavel and upheld the suspension to laughter.
"Mo was quite tough on some people," manager Joe Girardi said.
Who scored the biggest fine? The Yanks were tight-lipped, but Girardi dropped a hint, saying, "It was between two guys that throw left-handed, and I'll leave it at that."
Much has been made of a new atmosphere in the Yankees clubhouse, and that is true to a degree. Burnett was the ringleader who started the tradition of hitting players in the face with whipped cream pies last week on walk-off hits, though Jeter thought the change in attitude may be partially attributed to the new Yankee Stadium, which gives players room to hide from the eyes and ears of the media.
"Guys are having a good time, they're enjoying themselves," Jeter said. "You can joke with people without someone taking it the wrong way and putting it on the front page. It probably is a little more relaxed because there's a lot of room to move around. ... It's always a lot more fun when you win. You're not going to see pies in peoples' faces after a loss."
The tone changed this spring when Girardi called off practice to sneak his team away as a surprise, chartering buses to a Tampa, Fla., area billiards hall and holding a tournament that Rivera emerged victorious. The presence of newcomers like the exuberant Swisher and several young players has also helped.
"I really think everybody here is pulling in the same direction," Damon said. "It started last year going into the season this year with the day off this spring, getting the club together and becoming better friends -- not only on the field, but off. I think Girardi and the coaching staff have done a great job bringing people and families together."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.