Claim: A baseball player protested a fine by paying it 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 — and what establishes a tale as an urban legend is not its truth or falsity, but its repetition by multiple people, with varying details of time and place. In the specific case of a baseball player protesting a fine by paying in pennies, this story does indeed seem to have qualified for urban legend status, as a couple of examples from teammates will demonstrate.
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:
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.
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
A 1974 article by Baseball Digest columnist John Kuenster antedated both these accounts with a tale about Oakland A's pitcher Vida Blue claiming that he had paid a $250 fine imposed by his manager all in coins, also (just like the previous two accounts) dumping the loose change all over the boss's desk:
Blue was still angry about being lifted sooner than he thought he should have, but admitted he deserved the fine because he accidentally hit Dark when he tossed the ball toward him as the manager crossed the baseline on his way to the mound.
"I didn't mean to hit him," said Blue, "so I paid my fine promptly the next day."
Blue couldn't resist the opportunity to express his "don't put me down" attitude when he paid his fine.
"I dumped $250 in pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters on Dark's desk," he grinned. "I wanted to make it all pennies, but they're hard to come by."
Last updated: 8 July 2013
Drysdale, Don. Once a Bum, Always a Dodger. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1990. ISBN 0-312-03902-6 (pp. 181-182). Kuenster, John. At Home and Away: 33 Years of Baseball Essays. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2003. ISBN 0-786415-5-92 (p. 45). Plaut, David. Chasing October: The Dodgers-Giants Pennant Race of 1962. South Bend, IN: Diamond Communications, 1994. ISBN 0-912083-69-7 (pp. 147-148). Associated Press. "'Pitch' by Drysdale Brings Suspension." The New York Times. 11 July 1961 (p. 34). Associated Press. "Giants' Pinch-Homer Tops Drysdale of Dodgers, 5-4." The New York Times. 12 August 1962 (Sports; p. 1).