CLEARWATER, Fla. — The Phillie Phanatic has sprouted wings, but don’t expect baseball’s favorite gyrating, hot-dog-gun firing, ATV-riding green mascot to start acting like an angel.
With what his handlers described as a new set of flightless feathers, bushier eyebrows, powder-blue tail feathers, and a larger tail end to boot, the new-and-maybe-improved birdlike mascot made his debut Sunday, flaunting his new look and bigger badonkadonk at the Phillies’ spring training home opener against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
But longtime fans of the infamously rowdy Phanatic can rest easy, said Tom Burgoyne, the man behind the mascot’s 90-inch-waistline and the “Phanatic’s best friend” of 32 years.
“He’s still the same old Phanatic, just with a little more sashay in him,” Burgoyne said, explaining that the furry green behemoth, who hails from the Galapagos Islands, was prompted to change by Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, developed on the Phanatic’s home archipelago.
“The species that survives is the one that adapts to change, and, Darwin was right, who knew?" Burgoyne said.
Forty-two years ago, when then-Phillies president Bill Giles commissioned the creation of a team mascot, he outlined a few, relatively vague specifications.
“Fat, green, indefinable,” Giles wrote in his 2007 memoir. “And lovable.”
As the Phillies unveiled the Phanatic’s new look Sunday, the first three boxes were still firmly checked. The fourth? Judging from the fans’ reaction at Spectrum Field, nothing much has changed there, either.
Phillies players who received a sneak peek during a commercial shoot this week gave the 6-foot-6 hometown hero a “thumbs up,” Burgoyne said.
Departing from his formerly green, fur-covered stubby arms, the Phanatic’s new, longer wings are inspired by the extremities of the flightless Galapagos penguin, Burgoyne said. The powder-blue tail recognizes a “very important color in Phillies history,” while the mascot’s new socks — blue with a red stripe — pay homage to the 1948 uniform famously worn by Phillies Hall of Fame outfielder Richie Ashburn. His new, red shoes featuring a Liberty Bell design pay tribute to the Philadelphia landmark. (No word on whether they were designed by well-known Phanatic pal and sneaker aficionado Bryce Harper.)
Meanwhile, the Phanatic’s newly broadened backside, Burgoyne said, has nothing to do with evolution or the baseball club’s history.
“Honestly, we just thought it would be funny,” he said.
The makeover is arguably one of the most drastic the Phanatic has undergone, although Burgoyne noted that the mascot’s fur color, jersey, hat, and overall look have “changed a little bit over the years.”
» PHOTOS: Phillie Phanatic through the years
The glow-up comes as the cherished mascot is entangled in a legal battle between the team and two New York-based puppet artists over the rights to the Phanatic.
Warring lawsuits have been filed in New York federal court ahead of the June 15 expiration of a nearly 36-year-old copyright agreement between the mascot’s creators and the Phillies. The team claims that designers Bonnie Erickson and Wayde Harrison, who are seeking to renegotiate the copyright agreement that they sold to the Phillies for $250,000 in 1984, have threatened to make the Phanatic a “free agent,” while the couple has said the team is “allergic to the real facts” over who made the mascot. Federal law stipulates that copyrights can be redrawn after 35 years.
The litigation, Burgoyne said, “kind of kick-started” the Phanatic’s transformation. But he said the changes are more about seizing a “great opportunity to have some fun, be creative, and make a teaching moment for kids.”
Harrison and Erickson — who also created the famed Muppet Miss Piggy — say they alone made the Phanatic’s character and backstory when they were contracted to create the costume in 1978. The Phillies argue that the baseball franchise is just as responsible for the success of the mascot as the puppet-making pair.
“I think since the Phillies gained control of the copyright they’ve focused not only on some of the visual elements of the Phanatic but also they’ve focused on the storytelling,” Dave Raymond, the first person to don the Phillie Phanatic suit, said in an interview last year. “It’s a lot like Disney and Henson [characters].”