Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Baseball Mascot

Now think. Think for a moment. Try to think of something more inherently amusing than the baseball mascot. Guess what, you lose, because there is nothing. Nothing that can match the awkward combination of childish enthusiasm, grown-up skepticism, and misguided marketing that the baseball mascot engenders. The problem is that it's not exactly clear what role the baseball mascot serves. It is for the kids? Often, but not always. It is for the adults? Adult baseball fans are mostly males who treat their sport with relative solemnity. The mascot is baseball's lone intersection with out-and-out fantasy. As such, it must achieve a delicate balance. Done right, it can serve as a further bonding mechanism between the fan and the team. Done wrong, it can serve as an object of relentless fan scorn. Sometimes it is both. The mixture of the mascot's surface optimism and the fans' deep-rooted pessimism can make the mascot ripe for parody (see the Capital City Goofball). You just know, for example, that the guy underneath the giant Mr. Met baseball head beats his wife mercilessly every night when he gets back from the game. Let us now, if we may, explore the world of the major league baseball mascot.

At the top of the heap, according to those in the know, is Phillie Phanatic (pictured above with our president). He is a "phanatic," so they say, because Phillies fans are known for being particularly aggressive and confrontational. Hey, I wouldn't want to be on the wrong end of Phillie Phanatic's nose, if you know what I mean; it resembles the top of a water faucet missing its turning mechanism. It looks like he and Tommy Lasorda had a bit of a fued going on back in the day. He also continues the trend of children's characters who don't seem to worry about underpants. Phillie Phanatic is the ultimate representation of one of the major subsets of the baseball mascot: the Sesame Street reject. For further examples, just look at Wally the Green Monster, who apparently lived inside Fenway Park's famous outfield wall until popping out of hiding for its 50th anniversary, and Youppi, formerly of the Expos, who holds the dubious distinction of being the only mascot to have ever been ejected from a game.

Moving on to the animal kingdom, we get the Washington Nationals' Screech, who is apparently supposed to be an eagle but more closely resembles a chicken. According to his website, his favorite movie is The Aviator, his favorite band is Wings, and his favorite song is Steve Miller's "Fly Like an Eagle." One animal mascot that I find particularly disturbing is the Mariner Moose, who just doesn't seem right standing on two legs (he does do birthday parties and bar mitzvahs, however). Also creepy is Pirate Parrot, who's even creepier given that he's also been a drug dealer.

Most disturbing of all, though, is Mr. Met, who comes off like somebody's freaky McDonald's-esque bad dream. He's an anthropomorphic... baseball. I associate baseballs with many things, but "cute" and "cuddly" are not among them. He even haunts fans at road games!

Some mascots don't even need to be guys in costumes. For about twenty years, the mascot of the Kansas City/Oakland Athletics was apparently a real live mule named Charlie-O. Sometimes the mascot doesn't even need to show up in person, as with the Angels' infamous Rally Monkey.

Then there are those mascots who, when mistreated, bring down the scorn of ancient civilizations. It was said that when the stadium workers disturbed the teepee of the Braves' Chief Noc-A-Homa, the team would automatically slide into a losing streak. When he was put back where he belonged, the team would win the pennant. The moral: Don't mess with the mascot.

Finally, we come to the failed mascots. There's the White Sox's Ribbie and Roobarb (who actually suffered physical abuse), the Yankees' Dandy (who I suppose wasn't so dandy), and my personal favorite, the Giants' post-modern Crazy Crab (the self-described "anti-mascot"), who, for reasons that are obvious, only lasted a year, although some lone fans are pushing for a revival. Perhaps they can count me among them.


yoggoth said...

And what a great Simpsons episode that was.

I've only been to a single-A minor league game and I don't think they had a mascot.

I always thought team names were amusing as well. My soccer team back in fifth grade was named 'The Lean Green Machine' because we couldn't agree on a name. Some mom's wanted a tree or lizard but us many fourth graders thought that was 'gay'.

Herr Zrbo said...

I just went to my first A league game today (SJ Giants). The mascot is a "giant", looks more like those toy trolls with the crazy hair. The mascot was pretty popular with the kids, but he (or her) did rally the crowd and got people to clap and what-not when the stakes were high. Sure it's kind of weird, but it's like going to see the clowns at the circus. It's just part of the show.

Little Earl said...

See, but this is partly what I'm talking about. You expect some silliness at minor league games, but in the majors? Imagine Barry Bonds hanging out with the Crazy Crab. I'm actually saying that I LIKE the idea of major league mascots. It makes the game more endearing. The players already take the game so seriously. It needs MORE of that kind of silliness, not less.

As for team names, I've always thought Florida's penchant for naming teams after water creatures made them sound kind of wimpy. I was reminded of this as the Marlins played the Brewers this weekend. The MARLINS? Sounds like the name of a Miami dance-pop band, not a fucking baseball team. But the BREWERS! Oh yeah. We BREW BEER! What do the Marlins do, flop back and forth? Or how about the Miami Dolphins. DOLPHINS? What the hell is that? "Our team can perform impressively intelligent, humanlike tasks better than your team"? Now give me the RAMS. Or the BEARS. Or the 49ers. THOSE are some fucking team names.