They are the unsung heroes of sports, those larger-than-life figures that provide fans with endless entertainment – and free T-shirts shot out of small military-grade weapons.
They are the mascots, often fuzzy and always feisty, bringing their brand of comedic stylings to the masses, often as unique and unusual as their nicknames and costumes.
But sometimes, as the baseball world learned once again on April 19, the comedy can turn into tragedy – or as was the case with the El Paso Chihuahuas (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League) and Chico the Chihuahua — the appearance of tragedy in the name of more comedy.
Chico’s beaning by an errant throw from across the field became an instant social media sensation, but it is just another in the long, proud history of mascots and players coming together in unscripted, cringe-worthy ways that no true sports fan can ever forget … especially if it’s uploaded to YouTube.
CHRIS TAYLOR VS. CHICO THE CHIHUAHUA (April 19, 2016)
For all the talk this baseball season about protective netting running dugout-to-dugout across the Major and Minor Leagues, it is worth remembering that the dugouts themselves are not immune from a stray baseball making an ill-timed appearance. This is what Chico the Chihuahua found out the hard(ball) way last week.
Chris Taylor is a promising shortstop in the Seattle Mariners organization, but he is starting this season with the Tacoma Rainiers (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League) to gain more seasoning. And at the plate for Tacoma, Taylor has sizzled. But on April 19 in El Paso against the Chihuahuas, his defense fizzled.
In particular, Taylor air-mailed a throw to first base on an otherwise routine grounder. The throw sailed high and wide of first base and headed straight for the El Paso dugout, where Chico was sent tail over teakettle.
A quick-thinking cameraman located in the dugout caught the devastating aftermath as Chico struggled to get back on his paws. The mascot proved to be no worse for wear, although you would never know it based on the Chihuahua’s Twitter account, where the saga of Chico vs. Taylor took on heavyweight proportions.
First, Chico appeared in a photo on April 20, wrapped around the midsection in ACE bandages and giving Taylor a thumbs down (despite the fact that Chihuahuas, like all dogs making the futile bid to get their own Beggin’ Strips, have no thumbs).
Chico was hardly done. Armed with a handful of signs that proclaimed, among other insults, that Taylor wears “mom jeans” and still uses a Blockbuster card, Chico confronted Taylor in the Tacoma dugout during the April 20 game.
— El Paso Chihuahuas (@epchihuahuas) April 22, 2016
But Taylor knew Chico’s bark was worse than his bite, tearing up the offending signs and declaring the feud over … for now.
— El Paso Chihuahuas (@epchihuahuas) April 20, 2016
COCO CRISP vs. MARINER MOOSE (Aug. 5, 2007)
Must be something about Seattle and mascot mishaps. Everyone certainly remembers Mariner Moose breaking his ankle in a Kingdome mishap during the 1995 Division Series against the New York Yankees, when the Moose hit the outfield wall while being pulled across the field by an all-terrain vehicle.
But that was hardly the only time Mariner Moose mixed an ATV with WTF.
It was at Safeco Field in 2007 that the Moose went a little cuckoo for Boston Red Sox outfielder Coco Crisp. Back on his hell on wheels, the Moose was taking a lap around the perimeter of the field between innings, zooming past the Mariners’ dugout, then the visitors dugout, where Crisp, the Red Sox’ fleet-footed centerfielder, was emerging to re-take the field.
Head down, Crisp heard, but did not see, the Moose bearing down on him until it was almost too late. The ATV caught Crisp on the back of the legs, knocking him to the ground in a clear case of hit-and-run. Crisp had just enough time to lean out of harms’ way, preventing what could have been a disastrous injury for a team headed for its second World Series title in four years just two months later.
“Never really gotten hit by a moving vehicle before, so now I can put that on my list of things I’ve survived,” Crisp deadpanned after the game. “That was the most athletic thing I did all day. It didn’t hit me flush. I didn’t see it, but I heard it. Weird. I’m not an angry man. It was an accident. I mean, I’m not going to run over and clothesline the guy.”
Red Sox manager Terry Francona was in clubhouse momentarily when Crisp got clipped. He quickly got a call from apologetic Mariners executives, but took the incident in stride.
“I was told it looked like something from ‘Naked Gun’” Francona said.
Crisp was so gracious, he said he’d have a meal with the Moose the next time he was in Seattle.
“Maybe I’ll have some moose jerky.”
RANDALL SIMON VS. GUIDO THE SAUSAGE MAN (July 9, 2003)
Coco Crisp might not have retaliated for his near-Moose-miss in Seattle, but if he had, there would have been a precedent for it. A sad, silly precedent.
There are few mascot traditions more sacred than the Sausage Race at Miller Park in Milwaukee. Made up of five delicious meaty treats, the outsized hot dog, bratwurst, Polish sausage, Italian sausage and (added in 2007) chorizo race from one dugout area to the other between the sixth and seventh innings of Brewers home games. But in 2003, one of them didn’t make it back home.
For reasons only former Pittsburgh Pirates first baseman Randall Simon, on the night in question, as the racing combatants approached the Pirates dugout, he reached out with his bat and smacked Guido, the Italian Sausage, who promptly fell over into Frank Furter, the hot dog.
From that moment, Simon found himself in quite the pickle. It was an outcome no one would dare relish.
While most of those involved, including the poor 19-year-old girl who occupied the No. 3 Sausage suit on the fateful evening, found Simon’s swat a source of comic relief — “I didn’t see what happened. I looked and saw the weenies in a wad over there,” said Brewers manager Ned Yost – the Brewers and the league did a slow burn.
“[The incident was] one of the most despicable things I’ve seen in a ballpark in a long time. This is in no way a reflection on the Pirates. It’s an insane act of a person whose conduct is unjustifiable. It sickened me to see it.” – said Brewers executive VP for business operations Rick Schlesinger, whose rather serious demeanor would dramatically soften 11 years later upon the arrival of Hank the Ballpark Pup.
Local authorities weren’t amused either. After the game, Simon was arrested and booked for misdemeanor battery. He was ultimately cited by the sheriff’s department for disorderly conduct and fined $432.
But while players continued to have fun with it – “We’ve all probably done some things with mascots at one time in our careers,” said Brewers outfielder Geoff Jenkins – the league docked Simon a little more bacon, suspending him three games and fining him an additional $2,000.
CRAIG MacTAVISH VS. HARVEY THE HOUND (Jan. 20, 2003)
Mascot crime is not limited to baseball. Hockey has also seen its mascots run afoul of the actual participants on the ice, or at least the ones on the bench.
They didn’t come much tougher in the NHL than Craig MacTavish, the last player in league history to take to the ice without a helmet. The former hero as a player for the Edmonton Oilers in the 1980s later became their head coach (and later sill, GM) and was behind the glass in 2003 when the Oilers faced conference rival Calgary at the Saddledome in 2003.
Harvey, a gigantic white hound with a foot-long tongue, got a little too close to the action on this night, straddling the high glass that separated the bench areas from the fans behind them, using the vantage point to heckle the Oilers in general and MacTavish in particular, from a distance the coach found too close for comfort.
MacTavish turned around and yanked the long, red tongue right out of Harvey’s mouth, then waved it like a trophy to the crowd.
“You deal with a lot of stuff as a coach, and Harvey the Hound isn’t normally in the job description, nor should it be,” MacTavish said after the game.
News of Harvey’s “silencing” traveled fast across the league.
“I thought for sure they would start having a fund for Harvey the Hound,” Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock said. “A Save Harvey fund. Hopefully they get that done. Harvey needs his tongue back.”
Pat Quinn, who was once the GM in Vancouver, recalled his own run-in with Harvey after the hound defaced a Canucks jersey. Quinn become so enraged, he went onto the ice to chase down the mascot, and nearly killed himself when he slipped and fell.
“I was goofy enough to go out in shoes, so I backed off and waited at the gate for Harvey, but he wisely chose to go somewhere else,” Quinn said.
The Flames apologized to MacTavish and the Oilers and Harvey got a mild rebuke from the league.
“I don’t know if this is abuse of the mascot, but Harvey needs to know what side of the glass to be on,” Hitchcock said. “Either get on the bench and start playing or stay behind it. I mean, he lost his tongue. He could have lost his head. Hopefully, Harvey is a little smarter the next time.”
JOHN HUGHES VS. HOOTER THE OWL (Dec. 30, 2001)
Sometimes, even the mascots prove their only human. This time, there were no beanings, no collisions, no injuries of any kind. Just a little hurt pride, perhaps.
Basketball fans in Philadelphia will tell you there’s nothing quite as intense as a Big Five game featuring local college programs Penn, Temple, St. Joseph’s, Villanova and LaSalle.
And no Big Five coach was more intense than Temple’s legendary John Chaney, who routinely had the Owls among the nation’s elite. But even Chaney was left stunned by the actions of his team’s official mascot, Hooter the Owl, in late 2001.
It was late in a game between Temple and Penn when apparently Hooter had seen enough from referee John Hughes. The veteran referee had just called a technical foul on Chaney with 3:12 left in the game and Penn leading by six points. While Chaney and Hughes argued, Hooter wandered onto the court and confronted Hughes at the foul line.
At that moment, the Owl … shall we say … gave Hughes the bird.
Once Hughes got over the shock of a giant fluffy owl throwing him an obscene gesture, he gave the mascot his own technical foul and ejected him.
Penn converted three of the four awarded technical free throws and won the game 68-62.
The student dressed as Hooter would not give the assembled media his name and made no comment. Temple officials would not release the man’s name.
“I can’t believe that’s ever happened before, Chaney said after the game. “Usually our mascot is soft.”
Incredibly, another mascot would be ejected from a college basketball game in 2009 – AND IT WAS ALSO AN OWL!
The culprit this night was Sammy the Owl, representing Rice University in its game against Tulane, after he Owl-head-butted referee Curtis Shaw. Unlike the Milwaukee Brewers, Rice had a little fun with this one (see above).
Image of Chico courtesy of the El Paso Chihuahuas.