Old Wives' Tales
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Toxin du jour
Legend: Baseball player protests a fine by paying in pennies.
Origins: Many a tale is told about the person who, required to pay a fine, a tax, or a debt he considers unjust, fulfills his obligation yet still manages to stage a protest (and make things as difficult as possible for the payee) by paying the fee entirely in pennies. Such events have played out in real life many times (although as we note on another page, businesses are not obligated to accept pennies as payment), but our interest here is in urban legends
The first telling comes from Los Angeles Dodger pitcher Don Drysdale's 1990 autobiography, Once a Bum, Always a Dodger, describing (thirty years after the fact) a 1961 incident in which Drysdale was suspended and fined by the National League for hitting Cincinnati Reds outfielder Frank Robinson with a pitch immediately after having been warned by the home plate umpire to stop throwing at batters:
I was suspended for five days by Warren Giles, the National League president, and fined $100. I wasn't too happy about it, and neither was Buzzi Bavasi, our general manager. But there was nothing we couldOne year later, Dodgers shortstop Maury Wills was ejected from a game by the home plate umpire (an act which carried an automatic $50 fine) for repeatedly stepping out of the batter's box during a contest with the San Francisco Giants. (Wills claimed he was protesting the umpires' failure to stop the Giants' groundskeepers from excessively watering down the area around first base.) In his 1994 book about the 1962 Dodgers-Giants pennant race, Chasing October, author David Plaut relates (also thirty years after the fact) a familiar-sounding anecdote about how Wills chose to protest his fine:
So I owed the National League $100 and the next time we went into Cincinnati I decided to pay my debt in person. I went to a bank and got $100 worth of pennies in those rolls, emptied them out, then put all the loose coins in a sack, and delivered them to
"Mr. Giles would like to see you," she said.
I went back to the office and had a bit of a conversation with
"And by the way," Mr. Giles added, "I want you to take those pennies of yours and roll them back up for me."
Fortunately, I had the paper rolls back in my room. I took the sack back to the hotel, and sat there for hours, putting the damn pennies in their containers, cursing all the way. Thank God I saved those containers or I would still be back in that Cincinnati hotel, rolling up $100 worth of pennies.
Wills maintained his ejection was unfair, given the circumstances. The unrepentant shortstop reluctantly paid his fine in person the next week when the Dodgers were in Cincinnati, site of the league headquarters. Maury went to a local bank and obtained $50 in pennies, then dragged theNote how the details escalate between tellings: in the first case the disgruntled player simply plops a sack of pennies onto a secretary's desk and slips out, then returns when summoned and obediently takes the coins away to
A couple of problems are evident with the latter account. First off, anyone who has ever a handled a $50 bag of pennies should know that it doesn't weigh anywhere close to
Is there a true story here? Or is this a case of a well-traveled anecdote being adopted by folks whose histories were replete with fines they judged unjust and therefore always felt deserved a measure of retaliation? People sometimes present fanciful tales they heard about from others as incidents in their own lives as an action form of treppenwitz (in this case an instance of what they should have done, not what they should have said). We revel in such inventive revenge tales because everyone has at one time been the object of a punishment he felt he hadn't earned.
Last updated: 2 January 2006
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