A baseball camp staple is Kangaroo Court each morning. It’s a chance to get full chuckles at the expense of dubious and embarrassing feats both on and off the field from the previous day. Your coaches also serve as double agents; any foibles they feel worthy of mention they turn into the Judge for ‘recognition’ among the whole camp.
The Pirates, Tigers and Yankees do their courts a bit differently with the same outcome. The Pirates gather the camp out on the field before morning stretch; the Tigers have a dedicated area outside the clubhouse for their judicial hearings and the Yankees congregate in the middle of the clubhouse right after everyone has slipped into uniform for the day.
The Kangaroo Court judges are the focal point of the week and demand to be respected not only while court is in session but all other times as well. That rarely happens. The Pirates judge is former pitcher Steve Blass, funny guy who now does community service and some radio and tv work for the Bucs; the Tigers judge- retired little used reliever Jon Warden is the best, a former stand-up comic who’s shtick easily transcends from the stage to the ball field. The Yankee judge, Mickey Rivers, is the weakest of the three.
Blass and Warden have a natural gift of gab and ad lib timing. Rivers, known in his playing days for his malapropos, struggles with oratory skills but gets bailed out by the other coaches in the room who normally carry the transgression ball for the judge. Warden and Rivers wear flowing judicial robes; Blass doesn’t. The Pirates and Tigers have the timing down perfectly. No longer than 10 minutes to capsulate and keep interest. The Yankees court will go over a half hour and becomes too long and winded. I found myself losing interest regularly last year.
Blass, 70, had an interesting big league career all with Pittsburgh. A right handed fireballer he won 103 games against 76 losses in a 10 year resume with a lifetime 3.63 ERA. His best season was 1968 when Steve rang up 18 wins and a 2.12 ERA. His highlight reel begins with the 1971 World Series which the Pirates won in seven games over Baltimore. Blass had two complete game wins giving up only seven hits and two runs and was second in the MVP voting only behind the great Roberto Clemente.
Then things went wrong for the Connecticut native. Very wrong. In 1973 Blass lost the strike zone and his ERA jumped to 9.85 and he was finished. Spent 1974 in the minors, the ability to throw strikes never returned and by 1975 he was a salesman for a company selling class rings.
His on the field achievements unfortunately did not become his legacy. His inability to find the target has become baseball lexicon and now others who lose the ability to throw the ball accurately have been labeled with ‘Steve Blass Disease’. Among them were Steve Sax, Rick Ankiel, Chuck Knoblauch, Mark Wohlers and Dontrelle Willis. I’m pretty sure New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez has it as well.
While Blass lost the strike zone he didn’t lose his hand-eye coordination on the golf course. In September, 2009 Steve miraculously got not one but two holes-in-one during the same round acing two par 3′s- one at 154 yards and the second 175 yards away. Odds of two in one round? Just a cool 67 million to one!