Mascots have been part of the fabric of baseball for as long as there has been baseball. All but three of the teams in Major League Baseball have one.
The early versions, of course, were simple artwork, like the elephants that the Philadelphia Athletics adopted in defiance of New York Giants manager John McGraw’s quip that new team owner Ben Shibe had a “white elephant on his hands.”
Soon teams began using live animal mascots like Larry, a bull terrier tended to by the Cleveland Naps in the 1910s, or Charlie-O, the mule kept by another Athletics owner, Charles O. Finley, in the 60s and 70s. Around that time, other mascots appeared that were simply actors and actresses in theatrical costume.
It wasn’t until the mid-to-late 70s that the mascot as we know it today was truly born in baseball, but since then, they’ve been oodles of fun. Whether leading the crowd in cheers, having fun with the players and umpires, or messing with a broadcaster or two, it’s hard to hate these gigantic balls of fun.
But which mascots are a cut above the rest? Today, we’ll look at the 10 best mascots in the history of the game.
1 Honorable Mention: Dinger (Rockies)
Dinger doesn't quite crack the top 10 but gets an honorable mention for having an origin story that is simply awesome.
While construction was underway at Coors Field, a clutch of dinosaur fossils was found, including a seven-foot-long triceratops skull. In light of the discovery, the decision was made to make the team mascot a triceratops as well.
2 10. Wally the Green Monster (Red Sox)
The "youngest" of the mascots on this list, the Boston Red Sox made a major break with tradition in 1997 when Wally emerged from the Green Monster. Traditionalists decried the addition of a mascot, but the acceptance of Wally by legendary broadcaster Jerry Remy saw the majority of Red Sox Nation come around. 20 years later, Wally has become one of the more beloved of the game's fuzzy suits.
As most of the best mascots, Wally has become a major part of the community in Boston. Remy has penned a number of children's books chronicling Wally's adventures with the Red Sox, and he participates in a number of charitable gatherings, particularly for the Jimmy Fund. He's also been a focal point of two of the most hilarious "This is Sportscenter" spots this century.
Promising to be a part of the fabric of both the Red Sox and Boston for years to come, Wally can only move up lists like this as time goes on.
3 9. Billy the Marlin (Marlins)
First appearing in the Marlins' inaugural 1993 season, Billy the Marlin has been pleasing fans in Miami for the franchise's entire existence.
His name is a clever play on words—taxonomically speaking, marlins are billfish. Originally played by John Routh, who also played the University of Miami's Sebastian the Ibis, the mascot has been party to several interesting incidents over the years.
On Opening Day 1997, a Navy SEAL attempted to parachute into what was then known as Pro Player Stadium wearing Billy's suit when a large gust of wind blew the mascot's head off. The SEAL wisely altered his course so he landed outside the stadium—and the suit's head was found two months later mostly undamaged by the Florida Turnpike. During Routh's tenure in the suit, Billy was also the subject of an unsuccessful $250,000 lawsuit alleging negligence after a man was injured by a t-shirt cannon.
As expected with most mascots, Billy is a big part of the team outreach to children. Billy's Bunch is a fan club for fans 12 and younger, as well as a weekly show on SunSports in Miami. Having undergone a major redesign when the team rebranded in 2012, he will undoubtedly be a source of joy for those kids and all Marlins fans for many years.
4 8. Bernie Brewer (Brewers)
Bernie would probably be higher on this list had the Brewers not put him on a nine-year hiatus from 1984 until 1993, when he was brought back by fan demand.
The original Bernie Brewer was an actor in lederhosen and a very impressive mustache. The character was created in 1973 in honor of the exploits three years earlier of a fan named Milt Mason, who, in a bid to attract fans for the new franchise, engaged in the baseball version of flagpole sitting. Setting up camp atop the scoreboard of Milwaukee County Stadium, he announced his intention to stay there until the Brew Crew drew a single-game crowd of 40,000. He remained for 40 days but, eventually, more than 44,000 people showed up on Bat Day to bring Mason home.
The current iteration of Bernie is a more conventional mascot in a suit but resembles the first iteration in terms of facial features.
Bernie spends most of his time these days in his special-made dugout in left-center field at Miller Park. As he did in County Stadium, he jumps down a slide every time a Brewer hits a home run, although these days he simply lands on a platform rather than the large beer mug County Stadium sported for him. The signature move has delighted generations of fans now, and Bernie will continue to do so long into the future.
5 7. The Pirate Parrot (Pirates)
In an era where the intrastate rivalry between the Pirates and Phillies was at its peak, the Parrot was introduced in 1979, the year after Philly debuted their own new mascot—who will be dealt with later on in this list.
The mascot obviously brought some luck to the team, because the "We Are Family" Bucs ran all the way to the World Series title, with the Parrot cheering them on all the way.
Originally somewhat angry-looking, the Parrot was redesigned to its more family-friendly look six years after his introduction, just before the revelation that the mascot's performer, Kevin Koch, had become an intermediary between Pirates players and cocaine dealers. The resulting scandal saw Koch replaced, but the character remained.
Fans are probably happy about that, as the Parrot has been continual entertainment throughout his tenure and developed a friendly rivalry with the Steelers' Steely McBeam and the Penguins' Iceburgh. The three often do events together throughout the city. Wrapped deep into the fabric of the city, the Parrot will continue to entertain for years to come.
6 6. The Oriole Bird (Orioles)
The Oriole Bird also debuted in 1979, hatching from a giant egg at Memorial Stadium. Since then he has been a fixture at Orioles games. One of the more physically active mascots in the league due to the relatively un-clumsy suit, the Oriole Bird is also one of the best-traveled.
He often takes the trip to Washington, DC, for the O's' yearly road trips to Nationals Park, often making decisive interventions in the Presidents' Race.
Based on the image that graced the Orioles' caps from 1966-88 and from 2012 until the present day, the Oriole Bird has the distinction of being the only suited mascot to grace a team's game cap.
One of the most recognizable mascots in the game, the Bird is one of the game's best, but he falls just short of the top five.
7 5. Mr. Met (Mets)
Mr. Met holds the distinction of being the first costumed mascot in baseball history. First introduced as a cartoon character when the Mets debuted in 1962, he made his first physical appearance two years later when the team moved from the Polo Grounds to Shea Stadium.
Phased out by the team in the 1970s, he didn't appear physically or in art for 20 years and was briefly replaced by a live mule named Mettle the Mule, which would parade around the field before games.
But, according to team lore, a lone fan named Lois Kaufmann waged a campaign to bring Mr. Met back. In 1994, he returned to a hero's welcome. He has become a symbol of the franchise, so much so that a few years ago he was placed on the team's batting practice caps.
The mascot hasn't been without controversy. Earlier this year the performer in the costume flipped off a fan after a heated exchange, resulting in the performer's dismissal.
But Mr. Met has brought far more positives than negatives throughout his time. Whether firing off his t-shirt cannon or engaging in a friendly Twitter rivalry with Noah Syndergaard, Mr. Met is one of the most popular mascots in the game.
8 4. Youppi! (Expos)
When the Montreal Expos moved to Washington to become the Nationals, they left one of the greatest mascots in history homeless.
Designed by the same woman who designed Miss Piggy, Youppi! (the French equivalent of "yippie!") is a fuzzy orange...man? Thing? Whatever he is, his antics made being at the outdated Olympic Stadium a little more bearable for Expos fans, from his debut in 1979 to the dark days during the team's last years there when attendances would rarely break five figures.
Youppi! is one of three mascots whose suits are on display in the Hall of Fame, and also holds the distinction of being the first mascot to have been ejected from a game. That came on August 23, 1989, when he took a running leap and landed heavily on the roof of visitors' dugout. Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda complained and umpires kicked Youppi! out of the game. He was eventually allowed back to the field but confined to the Expos' dugout as the game went 22 innings.
Fortunately for the world, Youppi! has outlived the Expos. After the team picked up and left, his copyright was bought by the NHL's Montreal Canadiens, and he continues to perform at the Bell Centre to this day, keeping one of the best mascots in history from being consigned to the scrap heap.
9 3. Fredbird (Cardinals)
Another of the elder statescreatures of the mascot world, Fredbird is one of the most recognizable characters in baseball.
Debuting, like many of his brethren, in 1979, Fredbird is a fixture in St. Louis, making hundreds of appearances around the city both in-season and out. With his goofy-looking face and wacky antics that involve everything from dancing with the umpires to water guns to his trademark "beaking " of fans, Fredbird has entertained generations of Cardinals fans young and old for almost 40 years. He has truly been one of the gold standards for mascots in the game today.
10 2. The Famous Chicken
Often called the San Diego Chicken due to his long association with the Padres, the Famous Chicken is likely the most iconic mascot in all sports. He has never been tied to one team, but at one point spent 520 consecutive games at what was then known as Jack Murphy Stadium.
The Chicken first appeared as an advertising character in 1974 and started appearing at Padres games shortly thereafter. He still shows up at PETCO Park every now and then, but his horizons are much broader. The globetrotting mascot shows up at events across the globe and in 2015, The San Diego Union-Tribune credited him with appearances in 5,100 sporting events in all 50 states and eight countries. Ted Giannoulis, the man inside the suit, is still kicking at age 63. While he doesn't perform nearly as much as he used to, he has no thoughts to retire or pass the suit on.
The Chicken's lack of an anchored home, both in terms of team and sport, keeps him just outside the top spot. But he deserves major credit, both as a character himself and as the grandfather of the modern mascot movement that started in the late 70s.
11 1. The Phillie Phanatic (Phillies)
If the Chicken is the grandfather of the modern mascot craze, the Phanatic is the father.
After the success of the Chicken in San Diego, the Phillies decided to employ the firm of Harrison/Erickson, now known as Acme Mascots, to design them a suit of their own. The furry green creature that resulted is undoubtedly the greatest and most important mascot in baseball history.
The Phanatic was ready in 1978 and made his debut that April. Bill Giles was presented with the option of buying only the mascot's suit for $3,900 or the suit and the character's copyright for an extra $1,400. He chose the former option. When Giles bought the team five years later, the copyright was worth $250,000. Giles considers it the biggest mistake he's ever made.
In the 39 years since his debut, the Phanatic has become the most beloved mascot in the history of the sport. His antics are endless. When he's not abusing symbols of the opposing team in front of them pregame, a stunt that once saw Tommy Lasorda assault the mascot when he brought out an effigy of the manager, he's hassling opposing fans in the stands, firing hot dogs into the crowd, dancing on the home dugout, and dumping popcorn on the heads of his unfortunate targets. He is so beloved he is often invited to drop by the visiting team's broadcast booth—often leaving a parting gift of popcorn or silly string.
His impact on the city of Philadelphia is equally strong outside of Citizens Bank Park. He attends countless events for charity and civic functions all year round, and his place in pop culture is so secure that he has popped up on television outside of Phillies broadcasts.
But his biggest impact may be on mascots in general. The Phanatic's success galvanized a huge segment of Major League Baseball. A wave of mascots swept across the league. Four of the suits on this list—Fredbird, Youppi!, the Oriole Bird, and the Pirate Parrot—debuted the very next season. If the Phanatic hadn't been conceived, who knows if or when the majority of the others on this list would have been or had been brought back from hiatus.
The Phanatic is truly the greatest of all baseball mascots.
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