Jun
15

The not-so Dandy Yankee

By

The 1970s were a wild time for Major League Baseball, and as I page through Dan Epstein’s new book Big Hair and Plastic Grass: A Funky Ride Through Baseball and America in the Swinging 70s, I am learning more about a care-free, anything-goes approach toward popularizing the game as America adjusted to shifting cultural and societal norms. Epstein intersperses straight-ahead chronological examinations of baseball with chapters about the game’s development. I’ve read about cookie-cutter stadium, the “We Are Family” Pirates, Oscar Gamble’s afro, AstroTurf and, of course, mascots.

The mascot craze started in San Diego with the chicken and spread east with the Phillie Phanatic and Montreal’s Youppi. These oversized…things…shook their guts, taunted third base coaches and generally played up to the mayhem of the era. Even in the Bronx, that bastion of Proper Baseball, where facial hair and giant afros were banned, got in on the mascot act with Yankee Dandy, a hideous seven-foot-tall bird who resembled Sparky Lyle.

Photo by Wayde Harrison

Today, Scott Cacciola in The Wall Street Journal remembers Yankee Dandy. Calling Dandy the biggest bust in Yankee history, a title for which Carl Pavano and Kei Igawa regularly battle, Cacciola delves into the mascot’s painful history. Designed by Wayde Harrison and Bonnie Erickson, the team behind the Phillie Phanatic, the Yankees embraced Dandy only reluctantly, and today, this mascot’s history is hazy. While Cacciola says the team used Dandy only from 1979-1981, previous jaunts through history say Dandy worked for the Yanks from 1982-1985, and few fans remember this ill-begotten experiment in ostentatious showmanship. “The Yankees didn’t even want people to know there was a mascot,” Rick Ford, the college student hired in the 1970s to perform as Dandy, said.

Cacciola’s history grows more exciting after an incident in Seattle where the San Diego Chicken was moonlighting as the Mariners’ mascot. The Yanks had forked over $30,000 for three years of Dandy’s antics and were set to debut him in July of 1979 when disaster struck.

On July 10, 1979, the Chicken—on sabbatical from the Padres, his regular employer—was working for the Seattle Mariners at the Kingdome, where he threw a hex on Yankees pitcher Ron Guidry as he warmed up. Mr. Piniella, the Yankees’ left fielder at the time, considered this to be in poor taste, so he chased the Chicken and, lacking apparent success, fired his glove at him in a fit of rage.

In the wake of that fiasco, Mr. Steinbrenner supported Mr. Piniella by telling reporters that mascots had no place in baseball—this, just two weeks before the Yankees were to introduce their own.

“It was so unbelievable,” Ms. Erickson said. “We just sat there in front of the TV with our mouths open. Did he forget or something? I can remember hearing him on the news: ‘Those things don’t belong on the field.’”

It portended disaster for Dandy—and for Rick Ford, a recent college graduate who had been hired to perform as Dandy. He had been choreographing routines for his debut. Eddie Layton, the Yankees’ longtime organist, had even composed an original song for Dandy. But Mr. Layton never got an opportunity to perform it at a game, thanks largely to Mr. Piniella’s squabble with the Chicken, according to Mr. Ford.

Practically since its debut, then, the Yankees have been trying to erase Dandy from its team history. The mascot was banished to the Upper Deck for nearly its entire tenure, and in 1998, George Steinbrenner, before he started to suffer the ill effects of old age, claimed to have “no recollection” of the mascot.

Today, former Yankee spokesman Marty Appel sums it up best. “It was sort of un-Yankee-like to have a big mascot running around,” he said. “It had no resonance.”

Categories : Days of Yore

59 Comments»

  1. Joel Remigio says:

    Wow. I consider myself a huge Yankee fan. The 70′s & 80′s were my formative fan years and I had no idea the Dandy Yankee ever existed.

    I do remember the Piniella incident though. Loooooooooou!

  2. bonestock94 says:

    This is hilarious, I can’t stop laughing at the thought of Lou Pinella chasing a mascot.

  3. JohnC says:

    How bout the Peterson-Kekich family swap?

  4. rbizzler says:

    Whoa, that thing is fantastic in a classic 70′s sort of way. Not that I want them to bring it back or anything, but I do enjoy a good mascot.

  5. Rick in Boston says:

    I like it when you guys preview baseball books. I picked up the Ed Barrow bio on your recommendation and this Epstein book sounds interesting as well.

  6. Steve H says:

    In light of this, those Memorial Day hats don’t look so bad do they?

  7. The Yankee Dandy was the worst idea since Greedo shooting first.

    (thinks, realizes that happened after The Yankee Dandy)

    The Yankee Dandy was the worst idea since the Ken Phelps acquisition.

    (thinks, realizes that *also* happened after The Yankee Dandy)

    The Yankee Dandy was the worst idea since Manos, the Hands of Fate.

  8. nsalem says:

    Thursday is the 32nd anniversary of the Guidry 18 strikeout game
    and the birth of the two strike clap. Probably the most memorable
    regular season game of that era along with the Oriole game following Thurm’s death. The stadium was a wild out of control place back then. What a strange time.

  9. But Mr. Layton never got an opportunity to perform it at a game, thanks largely to Mr. Piniella’s squabble with the Chicken, according to Mr. Ford.

    http://www.reelcollectibles.co.....hicken.jpg (safe)

  10. mustang says:

    Sometimes your better of not knowing.I will now erase all memory of this thread.

  11. We all know that this is the real Yankees mascot:

    http://snarkerati.com/movie-ne.....e-size.jpg (SFW)

  12. Kiersten says:

    That is the ugliest effing thing I have ever seen.

  13. steve (do) says:

    I would love to see them bring dandy back just to see the guest column from the wave_guy. He already used “atrocity” to describe the wave, what would Dandy garner? Except the red sox have a mascot, now I’m confused…

  14. thurdonpaul says:

    Freddie-Sez, is sorta like a mascot. Freddie is awesome.

  15. Gwen says:

    I was born in 1988 so I don’t know about any of the things mentioned in the comments, but I’m grateful they stopped this thing before it ever had a chance to show up at the stadium and destroy my childhood, especially since it was created by the team that made the Philly Phanatic. That thing is just plain ugly, though it earned a bit of forgiveness for appearing in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

  16. Good thing Piniella didn’t catch that mascot. If he had, the entire country would doubtless have been treated to footage of Lou choking The Chicken.

    /Had-to’d

  17. bronxboy says:

    Nice long quote there. Where is it from?

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