Baseball mascots, from left, The Phillie Phanatic, the Pirate Parrot,… (Nanine Hartzenbusch / Associated…)
BASEBALL URBAN LEGEND: The Yankees had a costumed mascot during the 1970s.
On July 10, 1979, the famous costumed mascot the San Diego Chicken (who was working for the Seattle Mariners that day), put a hex on New York Yankees pitcher Ron Guidry during a Mariners/Yankees game in Seattle. This upset Yankee outfielder Lou Piniella, who then chased the mascot and even threw his glove at the giant costumed bird. After the game, Piniella remarked regarding his irritation at the mascot trend, "If people want to pay to see a chicken, they should dress the players up in chicken suits."
New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner supported his player, deriding the then-nascent trend of baseball teams having costumed mascots (a trend started in large part by the San Diego Chicken). Steinbrenner noted, "These characters don't belong in the ballpark." This was an especially notable statement by Steinbrenner since two weeks later the Yankees debuted their own costumed mascot. Thus began the short-lived and ultimately quite forgettable career of Dandy, the only costume mascot in Yankees history.
The first notable interactive mascot in baseball was the New York Mets' Mr. Met, who first showed up at games in 1964. Mr. Met was just a guy in a Mets uniform back then, though, not the giant-head costumed mascot that the Mets have today. In the mid-70s, the radio station KGB-FM Radio in San Diego debuted a commercial with a chicken mascot. They then designed a costumed version of the bird and this giant chicken became popular in San Diego, ultimately appearing at over 500 San Diego Padres games (although never becoming the official mascot of the Padres, which is why he was available to be the mascot at the Seattle Mariners' game against the Yankees in 1979).
The Chicken's fame perhaps peaked in 1977. That winter, the Philadelphia Phillies decided to get their own mascot for the 1978 season. They hired husband and wife designers Wayde Harrison and Bonnie Erickson to design a costumed mascot like the Chicken and the result, the Phillie Phanatic, was such an instant success that teams all over baseball began falling over themselves to come up with their own costumed mascots. Today, only four teams in Major League Baseball do not have a costumed mascot. Those teams are the Chicago Cubs, both Los Angeles teams and the New York Yankees. That was not always the case for the Yankees, however.
After seeing how successful the Phanatic was, the Yankees also hired Harrison and Erickson to create a costumed mascot for them for the 1979 season. The result was an anthropomorphic bird named Dandy (a play on the song "Yankee Doodle Dandy") who had a mustache similar to Yankee captain Thurman Munson.
The Yankees leased the use of the mascot for three years at a total cost of $30,000. While the debut of the mascot was originally intended to be a big occasion, Steinbrenner's comments squelched that. There was a theme song for the mascot that was never used. Ultimately, the mascot was confined only to the upper deck region of Yankee Stadium (complete with a bodyguard to make sure no one attacked the mascot).
If the mascot's timing already seemed bad, it seemed even worse when less than a month after it debuted, the great Thurman Munson died in a plane crash. Due to Dandy's resemblance to Munson, the Yankees pulled the mascot from the stadium entirely for a little while.
The mascot served out its full three-year lease, but at the end of it, Harrison and Erickson chose not to renew, feeling that the Yankees were not giving proper promotion to the mascot (after all, part of the appeal to Harrison and Erickson in creating mascots was the marketing opportunities outside of baseball - the Phillie Phanatic makes countless public appearances at various events). I can't say whether it was an example of them dumping the Yankees before the Yankees could dump them, but whatever the case, Dandy was clearly not a good fit and the Yankees have not had a mascot since.
The legend is...
Thanks to Erin St. John Kelly for an informative article in the New York Times about Harrison and Erickson.
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