Collecting with Jeff: April 2017
By Jeff Figler
From Fredbird to Bernie Brewer, the Slider to the Phillie Phanatic, mascots have been a relatively new and entertaining innovation to Major League Baseball.
Although Max Patkin, a former minor league player, was known as the “Clown Prince of Baseball,” he was not playing the role as an “official” mascot, yet Patkin entertained fans in the field from 1944 to 1993. How Patkin got started is a story in itself. While pitching for a military team in Hawaii in 1944, Joe Di Maggio hit a home run off of him. Patkin threw his glove down and mockingly followed Di Maggio around the bases. Patkin later played himself in the movie, Bull Durham.
Of course, probably the most famous of all mascots is the San Diego Chicken. In 1974, a representative of a San Diego radio station went to the radio studio at San Diego State University looking for someone to fit into a chicken costume and represent his station at the San Diego Zoo for an Easter promotion. Ted Giannoulas just happened to be at the studio at the time, fit into the costume, and agreed to do it. After a day at the Zoo, he wanted to quit but needed the money. He stayed on as the San Diego Chicken, and the rest is history.
Even though he has never been the official mascot of the San Diego Padres, the San Diego Chicken has been the kingpin of the mascot revolution in Major League Baseball. The Chicken once had its little chicks follow him around the base paths between innings of a game. The Sporting News named the San Diego Chicken one of the top 100 most powerful people in sports of the 20th century.
Love them or not, you can’t help but adore, nor forget, mascots. Take the Phillie Phanatic. When Los Angeles Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda went toe to toe with the Phillie Phanatic, broadcaster Joe Garagiola was quick to quip that the Muppets were invading baseball.
Baseball is meant to be entertainment, and fans of all ages have come to expect their hometown mascot to rally their local team and their fans. Once, the Phillie Phanatic uniform was misplaced and it became a national story. It was found several days later, and peace was restored.
Mascots, such as Mr. Met, have appeared at fan events and sports shows. But who cares if the costumes are hot and heavy, kids line up for pictures with their local mascot. If you bring the kids to a signing at a Major League Baseball game, the adults are in line with them.
How about some of the innovative names of mascots for some Major League Baseball teams: “Southpaw” (Chicago White Sox), “Sluggerrr” (Kansas City Royals), “Pirate Parrot” (Pittsburgh Pirates), “Paws” (Detroit Tigers), “Firebird” (St. Louis Cardinals), “Gapper” (Cincinnati Reds), “Lou Sea”l (San Francisco Giants), “Mariner Moose” (Seattle Mariners), “Stomper” (Oakland Athletics), “Ace” (Toronto Blue Jays) “Bernie Brewer” (Milwaukee Brewers), and “Slider” (Cleveland Indians).
Three team mascots-the Phillie Phanatic, Mr. Met, and Slider-have been inducted into the Mascot Hall of Fame. Many more are sure to follow.
What can beat eating hot dogs and popcorn, and enjoying a mascot at a baseball game? Sure, Major League Baseball has become a big business, but no one can ever question that mascots help preserve that wonderful thrill of being at the old ballyard and enjoying our National Pastime.
Jeff Figler has authored more than 600 published articles about collecting. He is one of the world’s leading experts on collectibles and is a former sports columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch/STL Today, and San Diego Union Tribune. Jeff’s most recent book is Picker’s Pocket Guide to Baseball Memorabilia published by Krause Publications. You can learn more about Jeff by visiting his website collectingwithjeff.com. He can also be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.