Monday Mascots #7: Mr. Met

18 07 2016

Later this week I will be flying into Newark airport and after a brief stay with a friend, will be on my way to Cooperstown.  I’m going there primarily to see Ken Griffey Jr. get inducted, but Mike Piazza is the other headliner.  In honor of his upcoming induction, I thought I’d do a Mascot post for the team whose logo he’ll be wearing (I’d have picked the Dodgers, but hey – I see both ways).

Mascot/Team:   Mr. Met (New York Mets, 1964-current)

Mr. Met

Background:   Mr. Met’s origin is shrouded in a bit of mystery.  According to lore, he was born in April 1962 when the Mets played their first game.  His first appearance was as a drawing on the yearbook and scorecards for the team’s 2nd year in existence (1963).

Mr Met - 1963 Yearbook

Who gets credit for that drawing has been lost to time and history – but there’s an interesting ESPN article about a graphic designer, Rheingold beer and an early sketch.  The one thing I’d say – Mr. Red’s use in Cincinnati ballpark souvenirs  predates the Mets very existence, so I don’t think anyone can claim Mr. Met’s design as an original idea.

In 1964, Mr. Met became the first MLB live mascot, making his first appearance as the Mets moved into Shea Stadium.  Dan Reilly was the man behind the mask for the first years.

Original Mr. Met 2

He was around for about a decade, then got phased out and was MIA for nearly 20 years.  The Mets tried a Mule and no mascot at all for a bit, all while mascots like the Famous Chicken and Philly Phanatic became popular.  The Metropolitans brought him back in 1994 via a promotion with Nickelodeon, and he could be found at Shea Stadium once again.  He became the first MLB mascot to travel with the team overseas, traveling to Japan to help root his team on against the Cubs in the 2000 season opener.

He moved to Citi Field with the team in 2009, and is still one of the most popular mascots in all of sports.

 

Outside of baseball:   Mr. Met has been featured in quite a few SportsCenter commercials, most notably with his family – Mrs. Met and the kids.

Baseball card connection:  Mr. Met has been in a number of the Opening Day Mascot card sets recently, but his first mainstream cardboard appearance was in 2006 as part of Upper Deck’s mascot set.

2006 Upper Deck Mascots Mr Met

Advertisements




Monday Mascots #6: Mr. Redlegs

4 04 2016

In honor of Opening Day, I thought I’d post about the best opening tradition in baseball.  The Reds used to always be the first game in town, until sometime in the late 90’s.  I live in Chicago now, so going to Cincinnati’s Opening Day isn’t very realistic any more.  Plus, the Reds aren’t going to be very good this year, so I might as well do some kind of Reds post now.

Mr. Redlegs

I posted about Mr. Red last year after going to the All-Star game.  The Reds have 4 mascots, so even after this post, I’ll only be halfway done with all those mascots after this post!

Mascot/Team:   Mr. Redlegs (Cincinnati Reds, 2007-current)

Background:   The Reds first came up with a mascot known as Mr. Red in 1953 as part of the Crosley Field All-star game logo.  The character with a baseball head and a handlebar mustache and a bat.  The same character then appeared on either a primary or secondary logo for the team from 1954 through 1967.

Mr. Redlegs 1955

However, this mustachioed gentleman isn’t the guy really known as Mr. Red – that was the clean-shaven mascot that appeared on the “Running Man” logo that started in 1968, became the primary logo in 1972, and held that distinction for 20 years.  Running Man still functioned as an alternate logo until 2007.

Mr. Red aka Running Man retired in 2007 to make way for the return of Mr. Redlegs (and female mascot Rosie Red).  These days you can find Mr. Redlegs at every Reds game, adorned in an old school Reds uniform with the striped cap that was replicated in last year’s all-star game.

Mr. Red Mr. Redlegs Rosie Red race

Outside of baseball:   Like any good mascot, Mr. Redlegs hates the offseason and losing seasons.  Unfortunately, there’s no end in sight for the latter.  He also doesn’t like strikeouts, and his favorite song is “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”.

Baseball card connection:  There aren’t too many cards of Mr. Redlegs, probably due to the fact that the Reds basically have 4 mascots (and maybe more if you count Schottzie the dog from the infamous Reds’ owner).  He was featured on a Topps team card in 2009, and also on the Reds’ Mascot cards from last year’s All-Star Fan fest giveaway.

2015 Topps ASG Fanfest set - Mr. Redlegs and Gapper

I got Gapper and Mr. Redlegs himself when I was down there!





Monday Mascots #5: Phillie Phanatic

2 11 2015

Phillie Phanatic College Game Day

I haven’t done one of these since July, and that just seems too long.  So here’s my 5th mascot post.  I thought about doing something for the Royals given the fact that they just won the World Series.  But the Phillie Phanatic was on College Game Day this Saturday, and I thought it would be fun to do one of baseball’s most recognizable mascots.

This is the fifth mascot post I’ve done – but it’s the first of one that’s actively “working” for an MLB team.

Mascot/Team:   Phillie Phanatic (Philadelphia Phillies, 1978-current)

Phillie Phanatic

Background:   After the 1977 season, the Phillies’ Vice President, Bill Giles, wanted a family friendly mascot to draw more kids to Veterans Stadium.  He called up Jim Henson, who referred him to a former assistant who had helped develop Sesame Street.  Wade Harrison and Bonnie Erickson of Harrison/Erickson Mascots (now known as Acme Mascots) were hired to come up with the new mascot.

Dave Raymond, an intern for the Phillies at the time, first donned the Phillie Phanatic suit in the mascot’s debut on April 25, 1978 in a game against the Cubs.  He would wear it for 15 more years.  After the 1993 season, Tom Burgoyne took over those duties.

During those 15 years, Raymond turned the Phanatic into the most recognizable mascot, along with the San Diego Chicken, in baseball.  Raymond modeled his actions and movements around Daffy Duck, and the mascot has become linked with the Phillies and the city.  So much so, that in 1983 when Giles bought the Phillies, he paid $250,000 to Harrison/Erickson for the rights to the Phanatic.

He drives around the park in an ATV, and the Phanatic has no qualms in mocking opposing fans and players, becoming a pioneer in this mascot trait.  This was most evident in August 1988 when Dodger manager Tommy LaSorda got fed up with the Phanatic.  The Phanatic delighted Phillie fans by running the ATV over a dummy with LaSorda’s jersey on it.  In between innings, LaSorda came out and took the dummy away, giving the mascot a few whacks while he was at it.  The two have supposedly made up, though Tommy still says he didn’t like the stunt.

According to his bio, the Phillie Phanatic is 6′ 6″, 300 pounds and from the Galapagos Islands.  His favorite movie is Rocky, and his favorite food is a Philly cheese steak.  His mother, Phoebe, occasionally comes to Phillie games to help him cheer on his favorite team.

Phillie Phoebe Phanatic

Outside of baseball:   Phillie Phanatic does a lot of charity work in the City of Brotherly Love.  He is known for visiting hospitals and classrooms.  He recently scaled down a 31-story building to raise money for the Philadelphia Outward Bound School.

Baseball card connection:  There are number of cardboard tributes to the Phanatic.  He showed up in the Phillies Tastykake oversized card set in the 1980’s.  His fist solo card was in 1992 Triple Play.

1992 Triple Play Phillie Phanatic

He was also in the Upper Deck Fun Pack Mascot insert set in 1993.

1993 Fun Pack Mascot Madness Phillie Phanatic

Since then, he was in the 2006 Upper Deck Collect the Mascots set,

2006 Upper Deck Mascots Phanatic

as well as the 2008 Upper Deck Historic Firsts set, where he is shown in the rain for the first World Series game to be played over 2 days.

2008 Upper Deck Historic Firsts Phanatic

Finally, since 2007, he’s been featured in just about every Mascot set included in Topps Opening Day.

2014 Topps Opening Day Phanatic





Monday Mascots #4: Mr. Red

20 07 2015

A week ago today I was at the home run derby!  I’m letting my homage to the Reds for the All-Star festivities last week leak over into this week.  On that note, here’s my 4th mascot post.  This is actually the first post about your more “traditional” mascot – meaning there’s a guy who is paid by the team to dress up in mascot attire.  I’ve done a post about Babe Ruth’s personal good luck charm, and one about the Angels’ Rally Monkey.

But, this particular mascot is actually retired.  So I guess I still haven’t done a post about an active mascot yet!

Mascot/Team:   Mr. Red (Cincinnati Reds, 1968-2007)

Mr. Red

Background:   The Reds first came up with a mascot known as Mr. Red in 1953 as part of the Crosley Field All-star game logo.  The character with a baseball head and a handlebar mustache and a bat.  The same character then appeared on either a primary or secondary logo for the team from 1954 through 1967.

Mr. Redlegs 1955

However, this mustachioed gentleman isn’t the guy really known as Mr. Red – the Reds would later dub that guy “Mr. Redlegs” when he came back in 2008.  He’s a mascot for another post!

The clean-shaven mascot known as Mr. Red first appeared in 1968 as part of the “Running Man” logo.  This became the team’s primary logo in 1972.  He donned the number 27, and the Reds were apparently hesitant to hand #27 out to an actual player due to this.

Reds Logo Mr. Red 1972-1992

The creation of this Mr. Red generally coincided with the Reds’ new ownership; Francis L. Dale bought the team in 1967 and committed to keeping the team in Cincinnati by building a stadium downtown by the river.  This was during the best days in franchise history.  From the Big Red Machine to the 1990 Wire-to-Wire World Champions, “Running Man” saw 3 World Series wins, 5 pennants and 7 division titles before he was replaced by the primary logo in 1992 (he functioned as an alternate logo until 2007).

Mr. Red 1975

The “live” mascot first showed up in 1973, when Dick Wagner purchased the team from Dale – he was there for the 3 home games in the 1975 World Series.  In the 1980’s, Marge Schott did away with him in favor of her dog Schottzie, but he returned in 1997 with a more modern look as Schott was on her way out of baseball.

Mr. Red was joined by Gapper in 2003, and he officially retired in 2007 to make way for the return of Mr. Redlegs and a female mascot named Rosie Red.  Those guys and gal will get their own post someday in the future, but this post is for the Mr. Red I was used to growing up!  His retirement didn’t completely last – he came back for a part-time gig in 2012 and can now be seen on selected dates helping the with the Reds’ mascot duties at Great American Ballpark alongside Rosie and Mr. Redlegs.

Mr. Red Mr. Redlegs Rosie Red race

Outside of baseball:   Like any good mascot, Mr. Red could be found off the field at parties, etc. during his days as the lone Reds mascot.  According the Reds website, when he retired you could expect to find “this Running Man sunbathing, vacationing and coaching in Sarasota, Florida”.

Baseball card connection:  I was surprised to see there were only 2 cardboard versions of Mr. Red.  He was featured (with the same photo) in the 2000 and 2001 annual Kahn’s set that was given out as a promotional item at a specified Reds’ home game.

2001 Kahn's Mr. Red

This year there was a Mascot set associated with the All-Star Fanfest.  Five cards of the Reds’ 4 mascots, and Mr. Red was featured on one of them.  I didn’t get this card when I was down there – just Gapper and Mr. Redlegs for me.

Mr. Red





Monday Mascots #3: Charlie O The Mule

29 06 2015

Twitter is an interesting thing.  I have technically been on twitter for about 2 years, but I’ve just started to check it consistently in the last few months.  I follow a couple of guys who do things associated with sports logos (@sportslogosnet, @ToddRadom), and saw a tweet about a mule that took pitchers to the mound in 1965.  Now that seemed like a mascot I should learn something about!  Two days ago, the Oakland A’s did a promotional giveaway of this T-shirt:

Charlie O promo give away t-shirt

Mascot/Team:   “Charlie O” the Mule (Kansas City / Oakland Athletics, 1965-1976)

Charlie O Mule Charlie Finley

Background:   Prior to the 1961 American League season, Charlie O. Finley purchased the Kansas City Athletics franchise.  Finley would eventually be remembered for a number of his marketing efforts to promote the Athletics in both Kansas City (using the shortened “A’s” moniker) and after he moved the team to Oakland (incentivizing players to grown a handlebar mustache).

When Finley bought the team, they had only been in Kansas City for a few years.  He wanted to move away from the team’s historical Elephant mascot to something with a tie to Missouri.  And after reading an article in the Chicago Tribune, he was determined it needed to be a Missouri mule.  He ordered Jim Schaaf, head of the A’s promotional department, to find the finest Missouri mule he could.  They arranged to have newly elected governor Warren Hearnes donate the mule to the team, and on opening night 1965, Charlie O was unveiled to KC fans.  Finley rode him around the park prior to the game, causing a number of fans to question who was the bigger ass – the donkey or the owner who had tried to move the team to California one year earlier.

Finley brought Charlie O around the American League that year, and even offered Ken Harrelson 25 bucks to ride the mule in a game at Yankee Stadium.  It didn’t go so well when Roger Maris hit Charlie O with a baseball, causing him to buck wildly.  The “Hawk” tells the story here.

Charlie O Hawk Harrelson

When Finley moved the A’s to Oakland in 1968, he (somewhat controversially) took the Mule with the team.  Charlie O was still a fan favorite, however, even though the Missouri connection was gone.  He could perform tricks, like bowing to the fans, and he oversaw 3 straight World Series titles for the A’s from 1972-1974.

Charlie O bowing

Charlie O passed away in 1976 at the age of 30.  The team still used a mule as a mascot until 1981, when Finley sold the team to Walter Haas, Jr.

Outside of baseball:   In addition to parading before home games at Municipal Stadium and the Oakland Coliseum, Charlie O had engagements at hotels and hospitals.  I even read that Finley went to a barbershop to get Charlie O’s haircut.

Charlie O also had a song written about him, which I’ll post about tomorrow.

Baseball card connection:  Charlie O. hasn’t had any cards made yet.  He is getting 2 T-shirts, however.  The A’s had a giveaway 2 days ago as I noted above, and the Royals are doing a promotion where they remember the Kansas City A’s on July 6th where fans can get their picture taken at the ballpark with a Missouri mule wearing Charlie O’s original blanket.





Monday Mascots #2: The Rally Monkey

22 06 2015

Rally Monkey

Since I am in the midst of posting about the the 2002 season and playoff review – this seemed as good a time as any to do my 2nd mascot post about the Angels’ Rally Monkey that became famous during their run to the title that year.  My first mascot was a kid who acted as Babe Ruth’s mascot for home games in the 1920’s – so I still haven’t done one you would think of as a “traditional” mascot (i.e., a costumed character like the San Diego Chicken or Mr. Met).  But these “organic mascots” are pretty fun!

Mascot/Team:   Rally Monkey (Anaheim Angels, 2000-current)

Torii Hunter Rally Monkey

With Torii Hunter

Background:   In June 2000, the Angels were in a nail-biter in Interleague play against the San Francisco Giants.  Down a run at home in the 9th inning, the scoreboard operators posted a picture of the monkey from Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.  To the delight of the home crowd, the Halos pieced together a true rally – a walk and 3 singles, to earn a comeback win against star closer Robb Nen.  The monkey became so popular that the Angels bought their own Capuchin monkey to help inspire the crowd at home games.

The Rally Monkey (along with young fire-baller Francisco Rodriguez), became a national story as the Angels rolled off multiple comebacks in the 2002 playoffs.  It was certainly a gimmick – but one that was representative the true home field advantage that had popped up in Anaheim.  The monkey gained iconic status at the end of game 6 in the 2002 World Series.  The Angels were down 5-0 going into the bottom of the 7th, with just a 3% chance of winning according to baseball probability score.  But the Rally Monkey doesn’t know anything about advanced sabermetrics, or even about basic statistics.  The Angels scored 3 runs on a Scott Spiezio homer in the bottom of the inning, and scored 3 more in the bottom of the 8th to cap an incredible comeback victory.  They shut down the Giants the next night to take their only World Series title.

Rally Monkey plush

Since then, the Rally Monkey has maintained its presence at the Big A, coming on most often to “Jump Around” from House of Pain.  Plush versions of the monkey are popular sales items at the team shop, and it’s edited in to various films like Jurassic Park, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off on the scoreboard whenever an Angels’ rally is needed.  The monkey has its own Facebook page and twitter account.

Outside of baseball:   As mentioned, the Rally Monkey originally featured on the Jumbotron at Angel Stadium was the character Spike from Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.

Capture

The monkey has also been featured on a “This is SportsCenter” commercial.  I don’t particularly like the Angels, but this is pretty hilarious if you ask me.

Baseball card connection:  I was pretty surprised, but there hasn’t been a card of the Rally Monkey made yet.  Between the Topps Team sets and the inserts in Opening Day, I would have thought at least one would have been made by now.





Monday Mascots #1: Little Ray, Babe Ruth’s mascot

4 05 2015

I’ve decided this will be Babe Ruth week here on the Lifetime Topps Project.  Why?  Well, it’s not because today is Star Wars Day!  No, it’s because Wednesday is the 100th anniversary of the first major league home run from the Sultan of Swat.  I’ll be doing 5 “baseball & culture” features this week, and two of them are new features on this blog.

This is the first of those new features under the “baseball & culture” section of my blog.  In addition to two types of “Saturday Suds” themes (beers to drink and places to drink them), I’ve done songs, movies, and later this week will cover my first book.  This is a different theme – I’d like to write about mascots in the game.  And this first one will be a different take from what you’d probably think of as far as “mascots”.  I’ll probably follow-up with the more traditional idea later – the San Diego Chicken would make the most sense.

But to go with the Babe Ruth theme, I Googled “Babe Ruth mascot” to see if he had some kind of affiliation or something.  I was expecting maybe a corporate sponsorship or something.  Instead I found the story of Ray Kelly.

Mascot/Team:   Little Ray (New York Yankees, 1921-1930)

Little Ray Babe Ruth Mascot

Background:   Babe Ruth was always known for being great with kids.  Beside the fact that he was the most transcendent athlete in the history of American sports, he was known for being great with his younger fans.  Ruth was never known as the most mature guy out there, and when he became famous at a young age, it’s likely that he felt far more comfortable with a pack of 10-year old kids than he was with the elite circle of Harry Frazee or Jacob Ruppert.  Being raised for the most part at the St. Mary’s School for the Boys in Baltimore, he was credited for wanting to give back.

In 1921, Ruth was in his second year with the Yankees; this was before “The House that Ruth Built”, and the Yankees were renting the Polo Grounds from the Giants.  That year, Ruth saw a father and his young son playing catch at a park near his house, and the ever-friendly Babe joined them.  Babe was so impressed with Ray Kelly, that the next day the 3-year old was at the Polo Grounds for the Yankees game as Ruth’s “official” mascot.  “Little Ray” was there when Yankee Stadium opened in 1923 – the picture above is from the ballpark’s opening.  Kelly kept that role for a decade, until he was 13.  Even after leaving the team to attend school, Kelly and his father did get to attend the 1932 World Series in Chicago as Ruth’s guest.  He maintains to this day that Ruth did in fact call his shot in the third game of the series.

Outside of baseball:   After his Yankee days, Little Ray grew up to serve as an Army sergeant in World War II.  He later graduated from Pace University and worked as an accountant.  My grandfather fought in WWII and I’m an accountant – so I can relate on some level.  Though I was never a professional ballplayer’s mascot :).  Kelly passed away in 2001, 6 years after the baseball world “rediscovered” his story around the celebrations for Ruth’s 100th birthday.  Here’s a little more detail on his story.

Baseball card connection:  There are no baseball cards of “Little Ray”, but you can usually find prints of one of the 4 or 5 photos on eBay at any given time.

Update: I found one in the MegaCards Conlon Collection!  The back of the card details times when Ruth actually switched around and hit from the right side of the plate.

1992 MegaCards Ruth 1923 Ray Kelly