The late 1970s saw the birth of a new craze in Major League Baseball: the team mascot. It all began with what would become known as the illustrious “San Diego Chicken”.
The San Diego Chicken began as the “KGB Chicken”, a uniquely original idea to promote a local San Diego FM rock station, “KGB”. London, Ontario native Ted Giannoulas was a student at San Diego State University when KGB hired him to promote the station in a chicken suit. The KGB Chicken began appearing at Padres games and would perform strange antics that were novel and just plain funny. Not surprisingly, the Padres were a really bad team at the time, and the Chicken became one of the highlights of attending a Padres game. He was such a success, in fact, that he single-handedly gave rise to the host of other baseball mascots.
Not only is he recognized as the first pro mascot, he also pioneered the idea of using popular recorded music at games. Before the Chicken came onto the scene, all professional games featured only live organ music. Today, the soundtracks that are the staples of “stadium rock” have their roots from the Chicken’s act from the 70’s.
The owners of Barney the Dinosaur once sued the Chicken for copyright infringement because he had created a Barney replica that he knocked around the ballpark as a parody. Lawyers demanded $100,000 per appearance! The court sided with the Chicken.
The Chicken was “kind of this bizarre outsider who just happened to be there rooting for the Padres, and against the opposing team. The Padres never seemed to really promote his appearances. They just let him show up, and have the run of the stadium – this weird guy in a ridiculous chicken outfit, doing his thing. It was classic.”
Observing the success of the San Diego Chicken, other MLB teams were soon to follow suit with their own mascots. “Soon, MLB was inundated with scores of talent less hacks doing worn out schtick, in stupid mascot outfits. Because they were ‘official mascots’, they couldn’t really be edgy or original (i.e. funny). They really were there for the kids, who were also bored by them”.
Still beloved mascots that debuted from this trend include the legendary Phillie Phanatic (debuted 1978) and the recently sold former Montreal Expos’ mascot, Youppi (debuted 1979).
From about 1979 to 1984, just about every major league baseball team hopped on the bandwagon, however most produced unimaginative foam-formed mascots to appease the growing mascot trend. Every team, it seemed, except for the San Francisco Giants…
But, then came Crazy Crab, and the world of mascots would never be the same.