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June 15, 2010

The New York Yankees have a fairly illustrious history, which includes many high points and some great players (also some low points and some less than great players).

Today, the Wall Street Journal recalls an aspect of Yankees history that I have — perhaps subconsciously — completely blotted out of my mind. Apparently between 1979 and 1981, the Yankees had one of those stupid stuffed mascots, and its name was “Dandy.”


The idea was incredibly ill-conceived, as was clearly recognized by good old number 14, Sweet Lou Piniella:

He was designed by Ms. Erickson, who had worked on “The Muppet Show” and created Miss Piggy, among other characters. Dandy was marketed as a “dyed-in-the-wool” Yankees fan.

He was blessed with a pear-shaped physique that was almost Ruth-ian. He had a hat that spun, a cartoon-size baseball bat and a big, bushy mustache that evoked Thurman Munson, the team’s star catcher—which was no coincidence.

Above all, Dandy was a New Yorker.

“He was supposed to be sassy,” Mr. Harrison said. “He was supposed to have that Yankee swagger.”

Yankees owner George Steinbrenner had final approval, and he met with Mr. Harrison and Ms. Erickson at his Yankee Stadium office one afternoon during the early part of the season.

He sat at a large oval table that overlooked the field while two top-level executives—both of whom had expressed their support for the project—sat quietly along a wall behind him.

It was clear to Dandy’s creators that the onus would fall on them to convince Mr. Steinbrenner, who signed off on the mascot with one caveat. He pointed out that Dandy’s fur was royal blue. “That should be Yankee blue,” Mr. Steinbrenner said.

“I started to argue with him,” Ms. Erickson said. “And you could literally see the guys in the back going, ‘What is she doing?'”

With their differences ironed out, the Yankees agreed to lease Dandy for three years and $30,000 and made plans to unveil him in late July.

Created in 1978 by Wayde Harrison and his wife, Bonnie Erickson, of Brooklyn Heights, the Phillie Phanatic went on to incredible fame and fortune. Created a year later by the same couple, Dandy the Yankee mascot traveled an entirely different path. Never embraced by the Yankee fans and often banished to the upper deck at most games, he lasted only three years and is largely forgotten.

Want to know whom to blame for Dandy’s premature demise? Look no further than the San Diego Chicken and Lou Piniella.

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.

I speak for generations of Yankee fans when I say: Thank you, Lou.

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