Summer 1999

Baseball America online Columnists
- Summer 1999 -

Justice in America, as Chicken beats Barney
- By Will Lingo -

I no longer fear that the year 2000 will bring apocalyptic horrors to our beloved civilization. My faith in humanity has been restored.

Barney has been defeated.

In case you missed it, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided in July that Barney was an annoying dinosaur who needed to lighten up. That wasn't the exact phrasing, but that was the gist of it in Baney's case against the Chicken.
You know the Chicken, also known as the San Diego Chicken or the Famous Chicken. He's been entertaining fans in ballparks for years, and he's actually funny.
You also probably know Barney. He's the smiling purple dinosaur know for singing, "I love you, you love me," and spouting inane platitudes at America's impressionable youth.
And if you've seen the Chicken in recent years, you've seen him do a skit with a Barney lookalike. It starts out as a dance contest, one that Barney actually wins, but degenerates into a fight between the two. The Chicken gets the better of that battle.
"It's just a little Three Stooges slapstick parody," The Chicken said. "It's not like I was setting him on fire. But the Barney people found out and got all bent out of shape. "
Once Baney and his people, the Lyons Partnership, got wind of things, they took the Chicken to federal court to try to make him stop.
Given that Stevie Ray Vaughn was struck down while Michael Bolton continues to caterwaul for album after album, and given that "Homicide" got cancelled by NBC while "Suddenly Susan" returns for another stellar season, it's reasonable to think that Barney would win in court.
Not this time. Federal courts ruled twice that the Chicken was engaging in nothing more than parody and could keep stepping on Barney's head in ballparks from coast to coast. Not only that, but Barney has to pay the Chicken's legal fees as well.
"(The Chicken) was not merely profiting from the spectacle of a Barney lookalike making an appearance in his show, " the court wrote in it's opinion. "Instead, he was engaged in a sophisticated critique of society's acceptance of this ubiquitous and insipid creature. "
God Bless America.

Self-Made Chicken

The Chicken is one of the things that makes America great, an original that sprang not from some company's marketing department but from a weird combination of inspiration, desperation, imagination and of course, perspiration.
It all started in 1974, when Ted Giannoulas was a student at San Diego State and KGB radio in San diego needed a student willing to wear a chicken costume for two bucks a day. Giannoulas took the job and handed out candy Easter eggs to children as they came into the San Diego Zoo.
After that part of the job ended, Giannoulas asked if he could wear the costume to Padres games. He saw it as something fun and a way to get into games for free. The radio station and the Padres said it was fine, and our culture is richer for it.
The Chicken started working in the stands and ended up on the field, and then on fields across the country.
"There was no grand plan," Giannoulas said. "I talk to mascots today who put up these grand plans without testing their audience first. It was the laughter from the grandstand that basically carried me on the field. "
These mascots today. Most of them are pale imitations of the animal who inspired them all. And don't even get me started on Myron Noodleman.
Giannoulas says that a problem he's noticed with minor league team mascots is that the same person doesn't stay in the costume for very long, and those who do step inside don't know enough about the game. Part of what makes the Chicken good is that much of his humor actually plays off the game.
"I usually try to do a sketch or two with the home mascot, and it surprises me how many don't know first base from third base," he said. "I tell them to meet me on the third-base side after the fourth inning, and they say, 'Where is that again?' That makes you think for a moment. "
The only minor league mascot Giannoulas has seen that stands out for him is Henry the Puffy Taco in San Antonio, a worthy choice indeed. "The fans really rally behind this waddling taco," Giannoulas said.
No one has captured the imagination of baseball fans like the Chicken, though. And though his bread-and-butter is the American minors, he works many other places as well, including the Latin American winter leagues. He counts Mexico as one of his favorite places to perform.
"It's nuts in Mexico," he said. "It's like they think I'm a walking pinata. They really have a sense of fun down there. By the end of the last game I worked down there, you had thousands of people chanting 'Pollo! Pollo! Pollo!"

Mascot Hall Of Fame

It's safe to assume that thousands of people have never voluntarily chanted "Barney! Barney! Barney!" Especially not in a ballpark setting. So the only place Barney could hope to take on the Chicken was in a courtroom.

He should have known better, though. The Chicken had already won his previous court battle, against KGB. When Giannoulas sought more control of his burgeoning career, KGB not only fired him but also filed a lawsuit to keep him out of the Chicken suit forever.
Giannoulas won and in an elaborate ceremony that many of you might remember, was re-hatched before a sellout crowd in San Diego in June 1979. He wore a redesigned costume that has changed little to this day. That was the third generation of the Chicken outfit: the first was a haphazard cloth affair with a papier-mache head, followed by the KGB costume, followed by the current model.
Not that he still wears that costume, of course. Giannoulas goes through three or four costumes a year, thanks to the wear and tear from all of that physical comedy, and yes, all that sweat.
"I swear I must hold the world record for most sweating by one person is a lifetime," he said. "It's probably 125 degrees on an average work night, but it's second nature now. "
And now one of those sweaty costumes is actually going to the Hall of Fame. Giannoulas says Hall of Fame curators have asked him for one of his costumes so they can set up a display honoring mascots. Needless to say, it's the first time a masvot has been so recognized by the hall.
It's every American's dream. Work in ballparks, see the country, get paid for it and end up in the Hall of Fame. Granted, not many people could follow Giannoulas' exact path, but it shows that with hard work and inspiratioin, anything is possible.
And you can step on Barney, too