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The 1998 Giants fined Orel Hershiser over $8 million in kangaroo court

With so many stories to recall in its storied franchise, our new “Orange & Past” feature series will spotlight some of those that had been lost to time...

Orel Hershiser

The 1998 Giants feel like they’ve been lost to time, but our brand new Orange & Past recollection series will bring that team back to life and to commemorate them appropriately.

[This story was originally published in the December 8, 1998 edition of the Los Angeles Times Sports Section.]

by Luna Stearns

LOS ANGELES—Despite winning a world championship and a Cy Young award, Orel Hershiser has many regrets in his major league career. Eight million, to be exact. These regrets began piling up during this past season, when Hershiser, one of the most famous Dodgers to ever live, chose to pitch for their arch rival, the San Francisco Giants. He knew it would be a controversial decision, but he never expected it to ruin his life.

“I’m penniless,” Hershiser remarked. He washes dishes for a taqueria in Downtown to make ends meet. Baseball players have not had to work odd jobs in their offseason since the dawn of free agency. That’s where the best of the best make millions. Hershiser once was the best of the best, but after switching sides in a storied rivalry, he learned hard lessons about loyalty and liens. Everything he made has been lost.

Baseball teams will frequently hold “kangaroo courts” in the clubhouse where one player stands and accuses a teammate of committing a baseball “crime” — missing a bunt sign, failing to throw at an opposing hitter to protect a teammate, etc. — and if the accused is found guilty by the court, he must pay a fine. That fine money — “the kitty” — is held until the end of the season. A fund for a typical season might run into the hundreds of dollars.

Usually, the end of the year kitty gets used to buy out a bowling alley or pay for a massive beer run on the last road trip so that the players can have one last good time before the offseason; however, thanks to Hershiser’s contributions this past season, Giants’ second baseman Jeff Kent bought a Harley Davidson dealership, third baseman Charlie Hayes invested in an America On-Line competitor named Google, and pinch hitter Joe Carter bought a house on San Francisco’s ritzy Potrero Hill.

Such extravagance was made possible because of the kangaroo court fines levied against Hershiser. Every week, he’d be charged with “being a Dodger”, and every week, he’d lose his case. The Giants players fined Hershiser $300,000 per offense, perhaps taking advantage of an honorable man.

“I knew switching teams would be controversial, that players and fans alike would distrust me, and I think I felt I had to prove I could be trusted,” Hershiser said. He hasn’t spoken to his family in weeks, ever since they lost their home.

“I wanted to see if I could rise to the challenge of putting on that uniform. The rivalry is exciting and I’m pretty late in my career. I think I needed the challenge,” he added just before his shift as a security guard began.

Most would scoff at the notion of paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to their co-workers in an arbitrary court, but not Hershiser. As one of the game’s premiere teammates, he never once considered the possibility of ignoring his debt. He did retain the services of famed attorney Alan Dershowitz, however, in an attempt to win these cases once and for all.

“That’s when the debt snowballed. I was paying more for Mr. Dershowitz than I was the weekly court fine. But we were confident we could make our case,” Hershiser said. In the final analysis, the Dershowitz retainer accounted for only $2 million of the $8 million Hershiser lost over the course of the 1998 season. Hershiser’s legal team kept running into the same problem at trial: they could not disprove that Hershiser was a Dodger.

“We competed for a playoff spot until the last game. If I had pushed against the clubhouse and not paid my fines, we might not have been in that position,” Hershiser said as he began his morning shift at a McDonalds on Western Avenue.

“But if I had to do it again, I probably wouldn’t.”