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1978: Phillie Phanatic Makes His First Ever Appearance, Starting Weird Legacy

Culture | April 25, 2020

Los Angeles Dodgers Manager Tommy Lasorda with the Phillie Phanatic during an MLB baseball game at Veterans Stadium circa 1981 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Lasorda managed the Dodgers from 1976-96. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

The Phillie Phanatic, mascot of Major League Baseball's Philadelphia Phillies, is an institution, famous for his antics and general inexplicable nature. Born in 1978, the Phanatic is said to be a bird, although he doesn't look like any bird you've ever seen. He's birdlike in that he could be a deranged, many-times-removed cousin of Sesame Street's Big Bird -- which, in fact, he is. But that is the Phanatic's charm, and why the people of Philadelphia, a city with a sense of humor, have embraced him. Like the Muppets' Grover or McDonald's Grimace, the Phanatic is one of a kind and inexplicable -- and Phillies fans love him for it.

Source: (Bleacher Report)

In 1978, Bonnie Harrison and Wayde Erickson, who also had ties to the Muppets, created the character design and backstory for the Phanatic. According to the backstory, the Phanatic is a flightless bird from the Galapagos. He was named after the fanatical fans and he replaced the original mascots, Phil and Phillis. Which were essentially pilgrims.

He Started As A Way To Attract Fans

With his unnumbered jersey. Source: (MSN.com)

The Phillies were looking for things to draw fans to the stands, and had tried promotions such as kiteman and cow chip throwing contests and decided to talk to the people behind the creation of Big Bird on Sesame Street. They created a mascot who is somewhat undefinable. His snout comes from a megaphone, and he of course, can spit out his tongue. The Phillies organization was skeptical that the Phanatic would work for their purposes. When Harrison and Erickson gave them two prices, one with the copyright and one without, the Phillies chose the cheaper option.

Outside The Stadium

One of his television appearances, on The Goldbergs. Source: (uproxx)

Over the years, the Phanatic has been connected to merchandise, including license plates. For his birthday, paper masks were designed and handed out to the crowds. But he is not only about the merchandise, as he has been connected to philanthropy as well, changing his colors to raise money. The Phanatic is usually a distinctive green, although he was “dyed” red for a week before the 2006 season began. The color change was repeated before the 2007 season, as a fund raiser to raise funds to purchase smoke alarms in Philadelphia. In addition to appearing on the field, the Phanatic has appeared in popular culture. He showed up in a comic strip in the 1970s, and has appeared on a number of television shows, including The Simpsons and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

The Spirit Of The Phanatic

The Phanatice went red for charity. Source: (Twitter).

Of course, the Phanatic would be nothing but an empty costume without the person who brings him to life. Dave Raymond, the original Phanatic, was raised by a deaf mother, and had to talk with his hands, making him a perfect individual to be the expressive character, and Raymond trained his successor, Tom Burgoyne. He is a mischievous mascot, which is probably part of the reason that he is beloved by fans. In between innings, the Phanatic rides around the field on an ATV, and performs a variety of routines for fans. Some of these routines are designed to taunt the visiting team; for instance, he dances provocatively in front of their dugout, mocks the other team members, and smashes objects representing the team. He is also known for dancing on top of the dugout during the seventh-inning stretch, shooting hot dogs at fans from his ATV, playing pranks on the broadcasters when he visits them in the broadcasting booth, and buffing the heads of any bald fans within reach. Not everyone loves the Phanatic though, and Tommy Lasorda attacked him on the field while the Phanatic was mocking him.

An Evolution

Dancing on top of the dugout. Source: (The Comeback)

In 1984, Harrison and Erickson sold the copyright to the Phillies for $250,000. According to federal law, copyright agreements can be renegotiated after 35 years. In 2018, when the agreement expired, Harrison and Erickson threatened termination, stating that they would make the Phanatic a free agent and asking the Phillies to pay them millions to retain the rights to the character. The Phillies responded with a lawsuit, arguing that the Phanatic owes his fame to the Phillies and that the 1984 sale of the copyright was "forever.”"  Harrison and Erickson are not happy with the changes, nor are some of the fans, even though the changes are subtle. For their part, the Phillies have said that his changes are “evolution,” which is fitting since he is from the Galapagos. The new Phanatic is lighter green, his hands lack fur, the blue around his eyes is a bit lighter and there is more of it. He also has stars around his eyes, wears blue socks and red shoes, and under his arms, he sports a scale-like trim. He has also lost a bit of weight and has a new blue tail.

Tags: Baseball | Big Bird | Major League Baseball | Muppets | Philadelphia Phillies | Phillie Phanatic | Rare Facts And Stories About History

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Cyn Felthousen-Post

Writer

Cyn loves history, music, Irish dancing, college football and nature. Social media is also her thing, keeping up with trends and celebrities with positive news. She can be found outside walking or hiking with her son when she's not working. Carpe diem is her fave quote, get out there and seize the day!