THE PHILLIE PHANATIC may soon find himself in court - and not just over a stolen base.
The Phanatic has been sued in Philadelphia Civil Court by a 75-year-old woman who claims that he injured her knees when he climbed through the stands at a 2008 Reading Phillies minor league game.
Even the woman's attorney, John Speicher, of Wyomissing, said that people around him have said that "this is like suing Santa Claus."
"I'm expecting him to come to a deposition, stick his stomach and his tongue out at me and not say anything," Speicher said.
The Phanatic is no stranger to lawsuits. In a study published in the May 2002 Cardozo Law Review, Bob Jarvis, professor of sports law at Nova Southeastern University, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., said that the Phanatic holds the "dubious record as the most-sued mascot in the majors."
In her case, Grace Crass, of Wernersville, claims that she was at the Reading game with her church group when the massive, green, bird-anteater hybrid climbed through the stands and onto her legs, Speicher said.
"Not only was the pain immediate, she started yelling at him," Speicher said.
Crass claims that her arthritis, which had been asymptomatic, kicked into full gear.
"It set off the arthritic process, and in fairly short order she needed a lot of medical treatment," Speicher said. "Ultimately, she needed to get knee replacements."
Crass is seeking in excess of $50,000 in damages from several defendants including Tom Burgoyne, who plays the Phanatic, the Philadelphia Phillies and the Reading Phillies.
Phillies spokeswoman Bonnie Clark said that both the team and Burgoyne declined to comment on pending litigation. She did question Jarvis' characterization of the Phanatic as the "most-sued mascot in the majors," and said that he's been sued only twice in the last decade.
Daily News records show, though, that the Phanatic was sued at least three times in the decade before that, including once for hugging someone too hard.
Jarvis said that there are several reasons why the Phanatic may be prone to lawsuits, including his longevity. "He's been around so long and performed so many times, he gets sued more than a mascot that's more recent," he said.
The construction of the bulky body of the Galapagos native may also play a factor, he said.
"It's very ungainly, not like some mascots where the person in the suit has a lot of control," he said.
The Phanatic's personality could be another piece of the puzzle.
"The Phanatic is fanatic, it's in his name - he has to walk around and do crazy things," Jarvis said. "Because he's been around so long, he also has to keep topping himself."
Speicher agreed that the Phanatic is more "engaging and interactive" than the mascots typically seen at Reading Phillies games.
"Their mascot is Screwball, and it's like he's on Valium," Speicher said. "They say Screwball has the energy of Perry Como."
Finally, Jarvis said that the suits against the Phanatic may just be the result of a "litigious society."
"Once you get sued once, your chances of getting sued again go up," he said.
Speicher said that he filed the suit in Philadelphia Civil Court and not in Reading because most of the defendants are in the Philadelphia area.
Jarvis suspects that there may be other reasons, though, including that the major-league team, and not the minor-league team or the mascot, has the ability to pay larger verdicts, and because Philadelphia civil juries tend to be "more friendly" toward plaintiffs than suburban ones.
But Jarvis said that the civil suits shouldn't deter the Phanatic from being the phreak we all love, because that's the reason he has endured.
"If you have a good mascot he's worth a lot to you as a team because he's the face of the team even when the team isn't playing well," he said.
"The Phanatic is a classic character. He's bigger than the Phillies. At this point, he's part of the game of baseball."