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Phils' biggest fan turns 25
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04/22/2003 12:19 AM ET 
Phils' biggest fan turns 25
By Ken Mandel / MLB.com

The Phillie Phanatic been puttering around on his motorized scooter and dancing on dugouts with pretty girls for a generation. (George Widman/AP)
Watch the Phanatic in action: 56K | 300K

PHILADELPHIA -- Twenty-five years ago this week, on April 25, 1978, the Phillies' greatest silent fan made a permanent home at the Vet. The furry green native of the Galapagos Islands hasn't missed a home game since. Forever unwavering in his support of the home team and dismissive of all opponents, the Phillie Phanatic is arguably the most popular mascot in sports.

He's been puttering around on his motorized scooter and dancing on dugouts with pretty girls for a generation. He once got Tommy Lasorda so steamed that one could fill his head with water and boil pasta. The rotund green figure seemingly has always been there, staggering around, grasping his heart, or delivering snout kisses to anyone in range.

And to think that Phillies executives didn't know that they were creating a Philadelphia icon.

In the winter of 1977, the promotions folks went on the hunt for a new source of entertainment, as Philadelphia Phil and Phyllis -- the duo grinning Revolutionary War-themed mascots -- hadn't exactly held their own.

Chairman Bill Giles credits Dennis Lehman, now executive vice president of the Indians, but then a Phillies executive, with convincing him to try something new. Lehman had been to the West Coast and became intrigued by the San Diego Chicken for his interactive nature.

"Finally, I said all right," said Giles, then the Phillies' executive vice president, "but I didn't want it to be a recognizable creature like a chicken, bird or frog."

The team contacted Muppets creator Jim Henson, who sent them to a Brooklyn design studio. After a series of sketches, the Phillies selected a style with darker green fur, a longer snout and eyes that were fixed a bit differently than today's edition.

"They all had a Big Bird kind of feel," said Giles, who paid about $10,000 for the costume. He initially passed on forking over another $2,500 for the rights to the design, then had to pay $250,000 for them six years later.

The next task involved finding a "sucker" to get inside the suit. Enter Dave Raymond, then an intern whose main job was collecting All-Star ballots and putting up those "colorful cardboard displays." The Phillies sent a drawing and asked Raymond to commit to all the games that season. He quickly said yes.

"I just wanted a job with the Phillies and I was going to do whatever they asked me to do," said Raymond, a punter for the University of Delaware football team. "The joke among my fraternity brothers was, 'They're gonna beat you and hang you in effigy, and that's when the Phillies win. When you lose, you'll really be in trouble.' Their thinking was that if you add a muppet to Phillies fans, you're gonna be in trouble."

With instructions from Giles to "keep it G-rated," Raymond took the field.

"In my mind, I was thinking of my favorite cartoon characters -- Daffy Duck, Foghorn Leghorn -- and I felt the best thing to do was be frenetic, because that's what Daffy did, and that always made me laugh."

"We all waited to see what was going to happen that night and I'm thinking 'Do we have to have one of these stupid things?'" said Phillies broadcaster Chris Wheeler. "He came out that night, and I can't tell you what he did, but it was magic. He was a master of pantomime."

"We just started laughing from the first time we ever saw it," said Bob Boone, the Phillies starting catcher. "You had to."

Raymond added the scooter the next year, as being the Phanatic became a full-time job. Since the costume was hot ("Put on a summer coat, a bag over your head and jog a mile in the middle of August," he said), it was adapted and became cooler and lighter.

In time, the Phanatic figured out his boundaries of his behavior with fans, often yanking young women onto the dugout roof for a dance and taking "a few liberties."

"Richie Ashburn loved to think that's what I was doing," said Raymond. "He said I was getting away with murder. I was an all-American male, and couldn't believe what some women wore to games. I needed a closer look."

In time, the players joined in the Phanatic's antics. Raymond credits former outfielder Roger Freed with the first "dousing," a series of blasts from a squirt gun. Freed then orchestrated the Phanatic's revenge which involved Freed getting a bucket of water poured over him.

Then there's Pittsburgh catcher Manny Sanguillen.

"He's the reason the Phanatic fools around with players because he was so agreeable," said Raymond. "And I realized they enjoyed it. The Pirates became the team I would fool around with. Word got around and players would tell me things about other players -- stuff to do."

The Phanatic reached icon status after his run-in with Lasorda. The two hit it off during a 1980 tour of Japan to promote American baseball and when the Dodgers came to town, the two would interact with Lasorda always making it seem like he was mad at the 300-pound muppet.

Each trip, the Phanatic would put Lasorda's jersey on a dummy and abused it. Eventually, Lasorda ordered the clubhouse guy to not to give it out, but second baseman Steve Sax always made it happen. Everyone loved it except Lasorda.

"He was angry, punching me," said Raymond. "The head almost came off. It was a crazy time. People were booing him. I'll never forget that. So I got mad, went on top of the Phillies dugout with the dummy and pretended it was eating pizza. He thought that was mean spirited. and that I was defaming the Dodger uniform."

After 16 years of being the Phanatic, Raymond left to start his own mascot company. He passed the green fur to Tom Burgoyne, who had been playing Mrs. Phanatic and subbed for the Phanatic for five years when Raymond wasn't available. He debuted in 1994, and the Phanatic hasn't missed a beat.

"It's a great compliment when I hear people say I can't tell the difference," Burgoyne said. "I wanted to do the same routines: smashing the other team's batting helmet. Dave's the best and he was so memorable. I'm lucky to be able to follow the tradition he started."

And Philadelphia is lucky the Phanatic calls the Vet home.

Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.



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