The Cubs are thinking about adding a mascot. The team wants to come up with ways to make the Wrigley Field experience more family-friendly. Good luck. Drinking is so hard-wired into the Wrigley's DNA that it will take generations to turn things around. Plus, mascots are a tricky proposition. Marketing firms are paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to come up with cartoon caricatures of the team logo, or fuzzy creatures that look like they emerged from Pink Floyd's "The Wall." Despite the hard work and creativity, it's still up to the fans to accept the new mascot.
In a way, a team giving itself a mascot is kind of like giving yourself a nickname. It rarely works:
The White Sox fell into this trap in 1981. When Eddie Einhorn and Jerry Reinsdorf bought the team, they went out of their way to prove that they were modern owners with their feet firmly planted in the 1980's. They beefed up the team's marketing and community relations staff, along with opening offices in the Hancock Building. That way, potential business partners could be wowed by the view of Lake Michigan. It sure beat the Bards' Room at Comiskey Park.
The Sox hired the marketing firm that designed the Phillie Phanatic to design modern mascots for the White Sox. The end result was Ribbie and Roobarb, two fuzzballs who looked like the product of a bad experience with LSD. Ribbie was a purple anteater and Roobarb looked like the love child of the San Diego Chicken and a Swiffer.
Ribbie and Roobarb appeared everywhere. Comiskey Park. Community events. TV Commercials. They were even part of the team's effort to woo the voters of Addison when they wanted to build a ballpark in the western suburbs in 1986.
There was one problem. The introduction of Ribbie and Roobarb in August of 1981 meant the ham-fisted ejection of Andy the Clown from Comiskey Park. Andy Rozdilsky had been appearing at Sox games in a clown costume since 1960, when he won season tickets in a Knights of Columbus raffle. He was never the official mascot of the team, but the ushers continued to give him free admission. The Allyns and Bill Veeck were more than happy to have Andy the Clown wandering the stands, yelling "Cooooommeeee Onnnnnnn Youuuuuu Whiiiiiiiite Soxxxxxxxxxxx!" He had a nose that would light up whenever a child shook his hand. He sat in Mayor Jane Byrne's lap during an exhibition game with the Cubs and told dirty jokes (he sat down, his nose lit up, turned to her husband, and said, "Your wife is turning me on!").
In other words, everyone liked Andy the Clown. Well, almost everyone. The new administration of the White Sox felt a clown didn't jibe with their image as the team of the 1980s. On the day the Sox introduced Ribbie and Roobarb, Andy the Clown was told he had to pay his own way into the ballpark.
The reaction was immediate. Channel 7 sportscaster Al Lerner spearheaded a telephone campaign that forced the White Sox to change their mind the very next day. Andy could return, Einhorn said, but he could only limit his clowning to the concourses and the upper deck. The ushers, who had been at Comiskey as long as Andy, had a rather liberal interpretation of the rule, and were more than willing to let him into the lower deck.
When the Sox moved into New Comiskey Park in 1991, the team decided to cut ties with Andy. He was given a plaque to commemorate his years of service.
Andy would attend games at the new ballpark -- as a paying customer, and sans clown makeup. He did wear his trademark red bowler hat, and he would still employ his trademark cheer. Rozdilsky died in 1995. During his years of clowning, he only missed one Opening Day. He couldn't attend the opener in 1989 because of the death of his wife the day before.
Ribbie and Roobarb were the targets of verbal abuse by both adults and children alike. They were retired after the 1988 season. The Sox would dip back into the mascot pool in the 1990's, with "Waldo the White Sox Wolf." That was another failure. The Sox finally struck mascot gold with the introduction of Southpaw in 2002.
The lesson for the Cubs is this: Old teams have old traditions that die hard. The new Sox management did everything right, in the context of the time. But Sox fans felt they were being told that they were wrong for liking Andy the Clown and the Seventh Inning Stretch. If I'm the Ricketts, it pays to have a soft touch.