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Today’s story was originally published by Vince Guerrieri on May 17, 2017.
Before there was Slider, there was the Baseball Bug.
But before there were either – or the Phillie Phanatic, or the Pirate Parrot – there was the San Diego Chicken.
Ted Giannoulas put on a chicken costume for a San Diego radio station in 1974. He took his act on the road and became most intrinsically linked with the city’s baseball team, the Padres (ironically, Giannoulas – who finally hung up the chicken suit after the 2016 season – grew up listening to Indians games from Ontario). He really became the godfather of all the mascots.
And pretty soon, everyone wanted in on the act. Ted Turner, who had bought the Braves, offered Giannoulas $100,000 a year (in 1978!) to be the mascot in Atlanta. But he stayed in San Diego. The Phillie Phanatic debuted in 1978. The following year, the Pirate Parrot and a forgotten Yankees mascot, Dandy, debuted.
In 1980, the Baseball Bug, “a cross between a flea and a bird,” made its debut at the opener at Cleveland Stadium. Designed by Plain Dealer artist Ed Freska and constructed by Scollon’s, a local puppet-making firm that remains in the mascot business (albeit in South Carolina) to this day, it got a warmer reception than Mayor George Voinovich, who got booed when he threw out the first pitch (he got a much warmer welcome 14 years later at the first opener at Jacobs Field; by then he was governor).
The Baseball Bug’s debut was overshadowed that year by “Super Joe” Charboneau, who won American League Rookie of the Year in what turned out to be his only full season in the majors. But in 1981, the Bug was a vital part of Indians outreach. Players went on strike, so they couldn’t make personal appearances on behalf of the team, but the Bug could.
And he appeared at what was supposed to be the All-Star Game in July. Because of the strike, it was played in August, but that day, a Strat-o-matic “Game” was played at Cleveland Stadium, with all the pomp and circumstance a Midsummer Classic usually entails.
The Bug never resonated with fans, and faded into obscurity after the 1981 season. Nine years later, the Indians introduced Slider, who’s been part of the team since. Cleveland Scene reported in 2015 that the original costume is in the collection of a New York City man.
Photo: Cleveland Memory Project