In what has already been an off-season of change for the Philadelphia Phillies organization, one that seems to progress weekly with a new rumor involving another player leaving, there remains one constant.
The Phillie Phanatic will return in 2015 to entertain fans, and there is likely no more beloved mascot in all of sports today.
The mascot game for American pro sports teams wasn’t a big thing when Veteran’s Stadium opened in 1971.
In those early years of the team’s new South Philly home, a pair of revolutionary war-dressed characters nicknamed “Phil” and “Phillis” served that purpose.
During the off-season following 1977, Phillies Vice-President Bill Giles, who had helped formulate many of the team’s off-the-wall promotional acts in those early-Vet years, was looking for yet another attraction to bring even more fans to the ballpark, especially kids.
The man who was the team’s Director of Marketing at the time, Dennis Lehman, thought it would be a great idea to come up with a character as a counter to “The Chicken“, a rambunctious mascot working for the San Diego Padres.
Lehman got together with a group that had affiliations to Jim Henson’s famed Muppets, known then as Acme Mascots, and came up with the big, boisterous, furry, green character who would become known and loved as the Phillie Phanatic.
When the final design was complete, Giles and the Phillies were offered a choice. They could purchase just the Phanatic costume for a $3,900 price tag, or pay $5,200 and own both the costume and the copyright to the character.
“…the worst decision of my career” ~ Bill Giles, on not buying the original Phanatic copyright
In what he called “the worst decision of my career” in his book “Pouring Six Beers at a Time“, Giles chose to save a little money and just buy the costume. He had no idea how fast the character would catch on, or how popular it would become.
Five years later, when his group purchased the team from the Carpenter family, Giles would pay a quarter-million dollars for the Phillie Phanatic copyright.
The Phanatic has been brought to life mainly by two men. David Raymond wore the costume from 1978-93, and Tom Burgoyne, who has worn the costume ever since.
A background story was invented for the character, with the Phanatic having been born in the Galapagos Islands where he was raised by his mother, Phoebe Phanatic, who has also made numerous appearances at the ballpark, usually on special occasions such as Mother’s Day and the Phanatic’s birthday.
In 2015, while much else will change in the Phillies roster and on the field, the Phanatic will still be there for his 38th season of entertaining fans.
He’ll be found riding his ATV onto the field before games. He’ll be found shooting hotdogs into the stands. He’ll be found taunting players and umpires between innings. He’ll be found atop the Phillies dugout in the 7th inning, dancing with fans and placing hexes on opposition pitchers.
Whether it’s at the ballpark, or in various public and private appearances all around the Philadelphia area at any time of the year, there remains that one constant. Players and managers will come and go. Even ownership of the team will change.
But the Phillie Phanatic goes on, a timeless, treasured symbol of fun, now entertaining his 4th generation of fans.