CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Forty-two years ago, when 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 at the spring-training home-opener here 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.
In response to pending litigation over the soon-to-expire copyrights, the Phillies gave the Big Galoot a mini-makeover. An up-close look revealed a shorter, more cylindrical snout, star-shaped eyelids, and a slight rearward shift of the most jiggly potbelly in the Delaware Valley. The Phanatic also grew a longer tail with blue feathers and developed scale-like features on both arms.
Oh, and did you see his sweet new red kicks? (No word on whether they were designed by well-known Phanatic pal and sneaker aficionado Bryce Harper.)
But if you didn’t know better, the differences were barely noticeable.
Many fans were not yet in their seats when the Phanatic rode in on his familiar ATV and made his first appearance during pregame ceremonies a few minutes before 1 p.m. The most beloved character in franchise history (apologies to everyone else who has worn the uniform, but it’s true) was up to all of his usual tricks, punching the air like Rocky, stomping around in front of the dugout, and shaking his famous midsection.
The Phanatic's transformation was deemed necessary in part because his co-creators, Bonnie Erickson and Wayde Harrison, are seeking to renegotiate the copyright agreement that they sold to the Phillies for $250,000 in 1984. Federal law stipulates that copyrights can be redrawn after 35 years. The Phillies' rights expire on June 15.
Last year, the Phillies filed a lawsuit to maintain the status quo, claiming they have enhanced the Phanatic's "personality" and expanded its brand beyond merely the physical appearance.
"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," David Raymond, the first person to step inside the costume, said in an interview last year. "It's a lot like Disney and Henson [characters]."
This isn't the first time that the Phanatic has gotten a makeover since he was designed in 1978 by Erickson and Harrison, the wife-and-husband team that came up with Miss Piggy, Statler and Waldorf, and other characters on "The Muppet Show."
According to Raymond, the fur used to be a darker shade of green. There have been less noticeable modifications over the years, too.
"The eyes were closer together and kind of set more at an angle," Raymond said. "Colors of eyelashes, things like that have matured. The first color was a deeper, darker green, whereas the new colors became more of a brighter, Day-glo green. There have been subtle differences."