With Opening Day right around the corner, there will be plenty of roster-related and wins projections articles to digest. However, something different is on my mind at the moment.
The world changed in early 2020. We were so naïve. It couldn’t happen in our backyard. We’re talking about the best of the best; too big to fail. What could possibly force us to make sweeping changes to the red, white and blue… and green mascot. I mean, we’re talking about the best mascot in sports- the Phillie Phanatic.
First of all, let’s get this out of the way- the Phanatic is the best mascot. Not just in the MLB, not just in North American sports, but in the history of professional activities. Do I have an above-average knowledge of the pantheon of professional mascots? Nope, but it doesn’t matter.
If you try to award any other mascot with the crown- you’re not just wrong, you’re stupid. Who else could it possibly be?
The San Diego Chicken? We are talking about a chicken, next…
The Canadiens’ Youppi!? The exclamation point is part of his official name. Uh yeah, I don’t want grammar anywhere near my sports.
Wally the Green Monster wouldn’t even make it as a Sesame Street cast member.
Mr Met? Stop, you’re embarrassing yourself.
Et tu, Brute? It’s absolutely not Brutus of Ohio State.
How about the Phoenix Suns Gorilla? Sorry, but if you are a mascot in a city where sports is about the 100th priority, you are eliminated.
Feel free to keep trying, but you’re wasting your time.
Back to it, we are only about one year removed – from what has admittedly felt like thirty years in reality – from hearing that the Phanatic was no longer going to be the Phanatic. In a move to get ahead of a legal battle over the Phanatic’s ownership rights, the Phillies played Darwin and forced overnight evolution.
As a quick side note- this story got buried as we battled the early stages of a pandemic. Which was a huge PR break for the Phils, since our city’s natives are not the most forgiving bunch. Potential fan backlash could have factored into the upcoming legal proceedings. While it’s not clear how the reactions would have went, the window for visceral reactions is gone and it’s now largely an afterthought within our collective ADHD attention span.
I’m not concerned about the legal battle here (visit the Google for more). What I really want to talk about is how they changed the lovable goofball that we all grew up watching. This version has a star-struck look in his eyes, has bleached its fur, sports new kicks, has these odd scales and is displaying an interest in being slightly more healthy. You might not notice it much when you see him, but looking at a before and after side-by-side might be enough to make your inner child cry. At minimum, it just feels… wrong.
Your brain can’t place it, but it’s there. Something is not quite right. Like Uncanny Valley in aesthetics, Philadelphians and New Yorkers getting along, preferring cats to dogs, that hazy feeling after too long of a midday nap or why you are so deeply compelled to dispel any Wawa slander.
Perhaps it’s not that important in the long run, but it sort of is. The Phanatic has been part of the fabric of Philly since the late 70s and is well-known outside of sports. There was something wholesome about the creature, co-existing alongside the rest of the creatures in the stands. In other words, the legitimate ‘fanatics’ belittled by national pundits that are too lazy to form a self-realized narrative.
He was always there through the bad times, which are plentiful in Philly sports fandom. We projected our optimism onto him and he gladly embraced it. The Phanatic brings equal joy to a nine month old and a ninety year old. In a world that keeps changing and where new is sold as better, this green furball provided consistency.
Now because of a dispute over money, we were handed a modified Phanatic. It would be easy to say this is not my Phanatic.
But here’s the thing, he’s not my Phanatic, and he’s not yours either. Creators Bonnie Erickson and Wayde Harrison don’t own this creature. Nor do the Phillies. I also don’t think that David Raymond or “best phriend” of the Phanatic Tom Burgoyne would claim ownership rights.
The Phanatic is all of ours. Neither his appearance nor arguments over his copyright change what he means to the City. He’s a treasure and, despite Nicholas Cage’s best efforts, Philadelphia always protects its treasures.
He’s the manifestation of a city that is overly passionate, not often enough victorious and always misunderstood. He is the most likeable thing from a city that is anything but likeable, but I think we would rather have it that way. Sure no one like us, but we don’t care.
So as we get ready to ‘play ball’ once again, remember who has been around longer than anyone on the field or in the front office- our dear Phanatic. As Jerry Seinfeld once said, “we’re rooting for the clothes,” and he’s been wearing the jersey longer than anyone.
Hold up, Jerry is one of the biggest Mets fans out there, so maybe we can co-exist with Mets fans? Well, probably not, but with the weather warming up and a return to the diamond, anything is possible.