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On This Date in Sports July 24, 1979: Yankees Not So Dandy Mascot

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

The New York Yankees debut a new mascot named Dandy. Dandy was designed by Wayde Harrison and Bonnie Erickson, who were behind the development of the Phillie Phanatic a year earlier. Dandy was a pear-shaped creature with Yankee pinstripes, a spinning hat, and a thick mustache similar to captain Thurman Munson. Fan reaction was lukewarm at best. The mascot was put on hiatus when Munson died in a plane crash on August 2nd.

Mascots have had a checked history with Major League Baseball. Some teams over the year had unofficial mascots, even exploiting dwarfs. Some teams used animals, but few had live official mascots that were a part of the team. In 1963, the New York Mets hired the first live mascot when they hired a man with an exaggerated baseball head and named him Mr. Met. The Mets would later introduce a female companion for Mr. Met called Lady Met, but by the end of the 70s, both had been scaled back and eventually put into mothballs.

As Mr. Met began to fade away in 1977, the San Diego Chicken, originally a mascot for a local radio station KGB started making appearances at Padres games. The Chicken became popular immediately and became a vital part of the fan experience helping to draw in more families and relate to young children.

This led the Philadelphia Phillies to ask for a mascot to be designed for their ballpark in 1978. The Phillies first tried to contact Jim Henson, who created the Muppets, to come up with a mascot designed, but he declined and referred Wayde Harrison and Bonnie Erickson to the project. The duo had designed some of Henson’s Muppets, including Mrs. Piggy. The mascot designed for the Phillies called the Phanatic became an instant hit leading other teams to consider creating mascots for their team.

New York was not Philadelphia, and fans of the tradition-rich Yankees did not as warmly accept mascots. George Steinbrenner, the owner of the Yankees, called upon Harrison and Erickson, now running a company called Acme mascots, after the success of the Phanatic, to design a mascot for the Yankees. The mascot was laughed at by Reggie Jackson and Goose Gossage as a joke, while Lou Piniella, after a run-in with Chicken in Seattle, led to Steinbrenner saying that mascots did not belong in baseball even though he had his own debuting in a few weeks.

When the Yankees mascot named Dandy debuted, it was relegated to the upper deck as fans reacted with confusion to Dandy as they resumed the season following the 1979 All-Star Break. The one most notable and perhaps most beloved thing about Dandy was that it bore a striking resemblance to Yankees captain Thurman Munson. This would be the mascot’s ultimate design flaw as Munson was killed tragically in a plane crash while taking flight lessons on an off day in his hometown of Canton, Ohio, on August 2nd, and Dandy was sidelined for the remainder of the season.

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Dandy would be brought back for the 1980 season and was part of the team’s off-season marketing campaign. However, at an event at Madison Square Garden, the mascot was smacked around by less than amused fans. Rick Ford, the actor hired to play Dandy, then held the costume for ransom over a disagreement with his pay and use. The costume was later recovered as Ford was fired. The Yankees continued to sporadically use Dandy for two more years, relegating him to the upper deck and banning him from the field as they almost did not want even to acknowledge they had a mascot. When the 1981 season ended, the team’s lease with Acme mascots expired, leading to the end of Dandy as the costume ended in a dumpster.

While the Yankees try to deny the existence of Dandy, some photographs of him remain behind, proving his existence. Meanwhile, the rest of baseball and sports have generally warmed up to mascots. As the 1980s arrived, more and more teams added mascots, with the Mets bringing Mr. Met back in 1994 after a few bad seasons with even worse public relations disasters thanks to Vince Coleman, Brett Saberhagen, and Bobby Bonilla’s antics.

As of 2019, all but three teams have costumed mascots. The Los Angeles Angels have the rally monkey on video boards and the New York Yankees, who are unlikely ever to create another mascot after the Dandy fiasco. The Los Angeles Dodgers, while in Brooklyn, had Emmett Kelly, a circus clown who dressed like a bum and became an unofficial bum mascot.

Mascots have become a big part of the four major team sports, with New York often missing out. In the NHL, 29 of 32 teams have mascots; the lone exceptions are the Detroit Red Wings, who have a Giant Octopus in the rafters, and the New York Rangers, along with the Seattle Kraken. In the NFL, 27 of 32 teams have mascots; the exceptions are the Los Angeles Chargers, who used to have Boltman in San Diego, New York Giants, New York Jets, Green Bay Packers, and Washington Commanders. In the NBA, 26 of 30 teams have mascots again; the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets are exceptions, with the Los Angeles Lakers and Golden State Warriors also currently not having live mascots. The Nets used to have the Brooklyn Knight, which was discontinued, and the Warriors used to have a mascot named Thunder which was discontinued when Seattle moved to Oklahoma City.