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Between Updates on Contract Negotiations . . . : Sideshow: There may be at least one blessing to this labor dispute: a respite from the mascots. This fan's in favor of putting all those guys in silly suits on waivers.

August 22, 1994|JAY BERMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A baseball season is a terrible thing to waste.

Greedy millionaires squaring off against greedy millionaires? That's only supposed to happen when movie deals are being made.

But like every unpleasant, name-calling work stoppage, the baseball strike has a silver lining.

The game has been threatened by an insidious trend that could bring it down faster than you can say "Whitewater." That trend? Not the designated hitter, not artificial turf, not even organists who play eight bars of "Guadalajara, Guadalajara" after every pitch for no apparent reason.

It's mascots. Guys in chicken suits, parrot suits, generic bird suits, fish suits, turtle suits, dinosaur suits.

The strike means there are no mascots jumping on dugouts, hamming it up with terrified 3-year-olds or pretending to sweep dirt on umpires' feet.

How did these guys get started? you may ask.

Was it a plot to destroy baseball by the communists, the religious right or the National Football League?

No. It started innocently enough in San Diego as a promotion for a rock radio station. A guy whose qualifications included fitting into the outfit was hired to put on a furry chicken suit (even though few chickens actually have fur) and wander through the stadium, handing out coupons for records.

Records, of course, were black vinyl discs that played music when spun around rapidly on a machine. But that's another matter.

The San Diego Padres customarily lose more games than they win, and perhaps he was supposed to keep people from noticing that detail. Soon, like an infestation of Medflies, the mascot idea spread to Pittsburgh, Montreal, Philadelphia, Baltimore and beyond.

In Baltimore, home of the Orioles, the mascot wears a kind of bird suit. In Philadelphia, the team is called the Phillies. But because nobody knows what the heck a Phillie is, the mascot is just sort of a vague bloblike creature who stands on the dugout and keeps people in the front row from watching the game.

In Montreal, of course, the mascot can be annoying in two languages.

The Los Angeles Dodgers don't have a mascot. Neither, to their credit, do the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Detroit Tigers and several other baseball teams that have what is known as tradition.

Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig were Yankees. They never had to high-five a guy in a bird suit after hitting a home run. Neither did the Dodgers' Roy Campanella or Duke Snider. Ted Williams of the Red Sox would have wrung the neck of a guy in a chicken suit.

Lou Piniella is the manager of the Seattle Mariners. They don't have a mascot. As long as Piniella is there, they probably never will. When he was playing for the Yankees, Piniella once was chosen to play in an All-Star Game.

Before the game began, the first chicken-suit guy--the one from San Diego--came up behind Piniella, mimicking his walk and matching him, stride for stride, as he walked to the dugout.

When he became aware the guy was there, Piniella took off his glove and fired it at the creature, hitting him right in the ol' giblets. When a writer suggested that Piniella had overreacted, he responded: "If people think a guy in a chicken suit is so funny, why don't they dress up nine guys like chickens, let them play baseball, and have one man dressed in a baseball uniform so people will remember what we looked like?"

Whenever game highlights are shown on the news, you can count on footage of a mascot running around near the dugout, along with a shot of a guy in a tank top, holding a sign that says, "MARRY ME, ANGIE." But that great play by the shortstop? Sorry, time's up.

Just maybe, if the strike lasts long enough, those mascots will have to find real jobs. Of course, if the players get their way, the owners will be the guys wearing the chicken suits.

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