High and Tight: Mascot Mania - Rolling Stone
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High and Tight: Mascot Mania

Ben Gibbard, Tom Morello, Steve Earle and more weigh in on our national pastime

The San Diego ChickenThe San Diego Chicken

The San Diego Chicken

Donald Miralle/Getty Images

On the evening of June 29th, 1979, an armored car bearing a gigantic white egg rolled onto the warning track at San Diego Stadium. The 41,000-plus fans in attendance rose to their feet, their cheers growing increasingly frenzied as the vehicle slowly approached its appointed stop at third base. Once there, the egg was rolled off the roof and into a net held by six Padres players, who gingerly lowered the dinosaur-sized object the Astroturf.

As “Thus Spake Zarathustra” blared from the stadium’s P.A., the egg rolled back and forth of its own volition and cracks began to appear in the shell. Finally, after what seemed like a breathless eternity, the shell burst open, and a man in an orange and yellow chicken suit sprang to his feet, wings raised in triumphant salute to the ecstatic crowd. The “Grand Hatching” had come to pass!

The San Diego Chicken wasn’t the first costumed mascot ever associated with a major league team – the Mets’ baseball-headed Mr. Met and the Braves’ Chief Noc-A-Homa preceded him by at least a decade – but he was by far the most popular and influential. Born (hatched?) in 1974 when Ted Giannoulas, a student at San Diego State University and a part-time employee of local radio station KGB, talked the Padres into letting him entertain the team’s fans between innings while wearing the station’s chicken suit, the San Diego Chicken quickly became a national phenomenon. Giannoulas’ goofy slapstick antics endeared him to fans, players, umpires, and even rock stars – he suited up to emcee local concerts by the Ramones, the Beach Boys, the J. Geils Band, the Doobie Brothers, Sammy Hagar, Foghat, and High and Tight’s own George Thorogood.

Giannoulas, who performs these days as the Famous Chicken, eventually left San Diego for greener pastures. But his success with the Padres (and the considerable attendance boost he gave them) triggered a proliferation of mascots in major league baseball, a trend that shows no sign of abating, even though few of the subsequent furries have proved as inspired or as endearing as the Chicken – and many of ’em are just downright annoying.

While the Angels, Cubs, Dodgers and Yankees have thus far managed to sidestep the mascot mania, some teams now even boast multiple costumed mascots. The Pittsburgh Pirates, for instance, not only have the venerable Pirate Parrot on their payroll, but also Captain Jolly Roger and a foursome of racing Pierogis, the latter inspired by the Milwaukee Brewers’ popular racing Sausages.

Sure, it’s fun for the kids – and yeah, it was always hilarious to see the Phillie Phanatic goad Tommy Lasorda into fits of rage back in the Eighties – but has this furry-costume thing gotten a bit out of hand? This week, we ask our esteemed panel of rock & roll seamheads: Do you think mascots belong in major league baseball? Which mascots are the best – and the lamest?

Name: Ben Gibbard
Band: Death Cab for Cutie
Vocals, Guitar

Sure, why not? Mascots are fun and they get little kids excited. Hell, I got excited when the Mariner Moose showed up one night in my section! The San Diego Chicken will always be the best. He’s like the Babe Ruth of mascots. He completely changed the game for humans dressed in costumes at baseball games. Mascots at their core are not really cool, so to choose one as the lamest seems unnecessary. That being said, the Blue Jays’ Ace makes me uncomfortable. Mascots shouldn’t have superhero muscles.

Name: Pete Yorn
Vocals, Guitar

The Yankees, my club, don’t rock a mascot. When I moved to LA and started going to Dodger and Angel games, they also didn’t have mascots. So for me, I would not miss them. My niece likes the Phillie Phanatic, and Mr. Met kind of reminds me of that Burger King guy from a few years ago. Kinda.

alice cooper

Name: Alice Cooper
Position: Vocals

Mascots are great for the little kids in baseball parks. They keep the game fun for them! The Detroit Tigers’ Paws is my favorite, for obvious reasons. The lamest? Houston Astros.They went from Orbit to Junction Jack – a lateral move, if you ask me.

george thorogood

Name: George Thorogood
Band: George Thorogood and the Destroyers
Position: Vocals, Guitar

Do mascots belong in baseball? No. Other than the KGB Chicken, they’re all lame.

Name: Tom Morello
Band: The Nightwatchman, Street Sweeper Social Club, Rage Against the Machine
Guitar, Vocals

Mascots are fine at major league ballparks, but you’ll note the Chicago Cubs have the good sense not to have one. The greatest baseball mascot of all time is certainly the San Diego Chicken, whose spectacular comedic antics wowed audiences on a national scale in the Seventies and Eighties. There are many mascots in the running for lamest, but I will give the nod to the Milwaukee Brewers’ little sausage men who run around bumping into each other.

Name: Steve Earle
Vocals, Guitar

I kind of liked the Chicken when he came to Nashville Sounds games, but I can’t imagine a mascot in Yankee Stadium. And, let’s face it, Red Sox mascots Righty and Lefty are pretty stupid.

Dale Earnhardt jr jr

Name: Joshua Epstein
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.
Vocals, Keyboards

I think that they are all a little lame, but I do remember loving Paws (the Tigers’ mascot) as a kid at the ballpark.

Name: Handsome Dick Manitoba

The sexist pig in me only likes sexy female cheerleaders (basketball, football). I think you should kill all mascots – all are equally lame. And as long as we are on a killing spree, kill all fans who wave their stupid hankies, and even Yankee fans who stand up and dance to the insipid “Y.M.C.A.”

Name: Ken Casey
Dropkick Murphys
Bass guitar, Vocals

My two faves: San Diego’s Swinging Friar Fred and Milwaukee’s Bernie Brewer. The worst is that fat, clumsy, anteater-looking creep, the Phillie Phanatic.

vinnie paul

Name: Vinnie Paul
Hellyeah, Pantera

Anything that adds entertainment value to a professional sport is great! There’s lotsa TV breaks, pitching changes, etc., so these things are needed. My favorite, of course, is Rangers Captain. The lamest is Stomper – an elephant with an A’s uniform and the number 00. Fuckin’ lame!

Name: Steve Wynn
The Baseball Project
Vocals, Guitar

Neither of the two teams I’ve loved in my life – the Dodgers and the Yankees – have a mascot. Both are very classy teams with lots of success over the years. Great teams, no mascot. Hence, I don’t particularly dig any of them, though I am kind of partial to those racing sausages in Milwaukee.

Name: Scott McCaughey
The Baseball Project, The Minus 5, Young Fresh Fellows
Guitar, Vocals

I recently attended a Dinger the Dinosaur autograph session at Coors Field. Why? Because Dinger the Dinosaur has mid-game autograph sessions at Coors Field. The best mascot ever, though, is obviously Charlie-O, the mule “employed” by Charles Finley at Kansas City/Oakland A’s games in the Sixties and Seventies. Not only did this mule make appearances in hotel bars and in the K.C, Municipal Stadium outfield menagerie, but it was even briefly used to transport relief pitchers from the bullpen to the mound. Not some poor sod sweltering in a bulbous-headed costume, but a real, true work animal. That’s the mascot for me.

Dan Epstein’s book, Big Hair and Plastic Grass: A Funky Ride Through Baseball and America in the Swinging ’70s, is now available in paperback.


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