Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Bear Bottoms: Clark the Cub and the Statistical Argument Against Pantsless MLB Mascots by Jake Austen

The offseason signing that made the most impact in Chicago baseball this year is, sadly, Clark the Cub. Though a menagerie of living bears (and dogs, and a rooster) served as mascots for the Chicago Cubs over the team’s long, challenging existence, Clark was introduced this winter by a team that had resisted such temptations for the entire Modern Mascot Era.

The Beatles weren’t the only history makers to land in New York in 1964. That was also the year the Mets’ ballheaded Mr. Met was introduced as a costumed “walk around” character, as opposed to just a logo, and as opposed to the actual animals, disabled people, children, and inanimate objects that served as real-life mascots in the prior century of baseball.

A walk around Clark will appear at events (mostly charity stuff—we are promised he will not cavort in Wrigley’s holy aisles) and a cartoon version will appear on kiddie Cubs merchandise. It was the cartoon version that set off the uproar, for several reasons. The most baseball reason is that unlike the crosstown White Sox, who made a series of unspectacular but seemingly smart moves since ending their unlucky ’13 campaign (including getting a touted Cuban, recruiting position players with good fundamentals and clubhouse reputations, and classily giving Paul Konerko a curtain call season), the Cubs pretty much only acquired Clark. The most obvious reason to deride Clark is that if anything could be more generic than a big cute teddy bear, it’s one with a stupid, cocky grin and a backwards baseball hat. But the main reason Clark deserves derision is the most serious one: he’s not wearing pants! Is a bare-bottomed mascot fundamentally a problem? We shall explore that momentarily, but not before making it abundantly clear that no pants on Clark, named after the bar-lined street upon which Wrigley is built, is a serious problem.

Unlike the backwards cap-wearing Poochie on The Simpsons, Clark is not so much a rad dude as a dude. First of all, his backwards cap is adjustable, with one of those plastic fastener things, so unlike many mascots, he’s definitely not on the team, he’s a fan, perhaps one of the rowdy Bleacher Bums. And when one encounters a Cubs fan on Clark Street in a backwards baseball hat with a cocky attitude it is hard for your inner-George Zimmerman not to profile him— your first impression might be “malevolent drunk asshole.” And if such a dude is in a no-pants situation, good things are not about to happen.

That said, assuming that nearly all actual animal mascots were pantless pre-1964, determining how many Modern Mascot Era characters forego trousers can help determine whether Clark is just going with the flow, or is deserving of his instant appropriation as a naughty Internet meme. Before delving into team-by-team crotch covering data collection, one important finding is worth sharing: There are three distinct body/character types that most mascots fall into, which seems to determine if one wears breeches or breaches indecent exposure statutes. Mr. Met kicked things off by introducing the slim regular guy type, basically a normal human being wearing a giant puppet head, and almost always fully clothed. In 1978 the Phillie Phanatic popularized the rotund monster type, with a big, furry, comical belly made funnier by lack of slacks.And in 1990 the Mariners Moose introduced the idea of an athletic, cool character, and these buff body mascots (like Sluggerr and Southpaw) wear full team uniforms because they are powerful peers to their teammates, not goofy clown companions.

So, without further ado, let’s stare at some mascots’ loins….

ANGELS: Scoop and Clutch were fully clothed bears. The Rally Monkey in cartoon form usually does not wear pants, but when an actual monkey is utilized they wisely keep him covered up down there, so in real life he’s a tally for the pants side.

ASTROS: The Astros best mascot, Orbit the alien, lets his space junk waggle. But their many other shorter-lived mascots all wore pants. Junction Jack and his jackrabbit family, Jesse and Julie, wore top to bottom clothes. And military protocol kept the knickers on cavalry rider Chester Charge and the higher ranking General Admission.

ATHLETICS: Although the A’s have long had a logo of a bat-wielding elephant, wearing naught but an “A’s” blanket over his broad back, Stomper, their walk around mascot since the late ‘90s, is fully uniformed.

BLUE JAYS: Ace and his son Junior wear pants, albeit weird cutoffs (perhaps the ragged edges are supposed to mimic feathers?). Diamond (Junior’s mom?) wore long pants, and sexy pink platform shoes. In the ‘80s and ‘90s BJ Birdy was naked.

BRAVES: Homer the Brave went from Native American to Mr. Met clone, but never went natural. Rally (a rotund monster) was pantless, and The Bleacher Creature just wore a cap and creepy smile. The wisely abandoned Chief Noc-A-Homa was not a puppet character, but a person in Native American garb living in a teepee in the bleachers, and though he preceded the Modern Mascot Era, he shamefully co-existed with costumed creatures into the 1980s.

BREWERS: Bernie Brewer, as a regular guy, totally human puppet character better wear pants! Bonnie
Brewer (not a puppet suit, but a real, live sexy lady) wore lederhosen.

CARDINALS: Just call him freeballing Fredbird. Also bottomless: alternate mascot Rally Squirrel.

CUBS: Oh, Clark!

DIAMONDBACKS: Baxter Bobcat wears no pants, though his jersey is longer than Clark’s providing smocklike modesty. Their Luchador mascot wears pantalones.

EXPOS: Youppi! wore no pants, and was arguably creepier than Clark, because he has a flesh-colored face beneath an orange beard made of the same orange fuzz that covers the rest of his body, making it appear that he is a hirsute human going bottomless. Now the Montreal Canadians mascot, he sometimes wears hockey pants when he skates. Souki, a Mr. Met ripoff that preceded Youppi!, wore pants.

GIANTS: Lou Seal is a somewhat rotund, pants-free seal. The short-lived Crazy Crab had no pants, but only his arms and legs were exposed outside of the shell, which is like clothes, but no pants is no pants, so give indecency a tally mark.

INDIANS: Slider is a rotund furry, whose pantlessness reveals yellow crotch spots that he should get looked at.

MARINERS: Mariner Moose debuted in 1990, and was the first mascot I ever saw that had a cool, athletic persona, instead of being a goofy clown or devious trickster. Though not that muscular, and possessing a gentle soul that kids love, I credit him with the rise of the buff body type mascots. He wears a full uniform, though he also has a shorts-pants version.

MARLINS: Billy certainly seems to have pants, though why a fish has legs is confusing enough, so maybe his colorful leg covering is supposed to be fish scales, but they’re baggy, so I’m counting them in the pants column.

METS: Mr. Met, the granddaddy of mascots, the ballbrained bastion of mascot-dom, the standard setter, wears pants, as does his wife, Mrs. Met.

NATIONALS: Screech, the bald eagle was initially a young bird in an oversized jersey, but no trousers, but he’s since come of age into a slim, uniformed bird in baggy pants. On Mother’s Day we get to see Mama Screech who wears a dress, which covers her rump, so that goes in the pants column. And while many teams have racing costumes (something you give fans to wear between innings for a footrace, like the sausages in Milwaukee), Washington uses their racing president characters as pinch hitting mascots, having them make appearances and do skits, and giant headed Teddy Roosevelt, Abe Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, William Howard Taft, and George Washington always wear pants.

ORIOLES: Other than cleats, socks and stirrups, the Baltimore’s Oriole is naked as a jaybird.

PADRES: The Swingin’ Friar wears no pants, but his full-length robe certainly counts. That said, I hear he goes commando. Though the San Diego Chicken was not officially a MLB mascot, he appeared at hundreds of Padres games, and thousands of other major and minor league games, so let’s count him…in the no pants column.

PHILLIES: The Phillie Phanatic is the prototypical rotund monster, his Muppet-esque design and massive popularity influencing antics, design, and pantlessness for the rest of mascot history. He replaced Phil and Phillis, who wore pants, or half pants (they were Revolutionary War characters so they wore breeches).

PIRATES: The pantless Pittsburgh Pirate Parrot is complimented by the pants-clad pirate Jolly Roger.

RANGERS: Seventies mascot Rootin’ Tootin Ranger wore pants, which isn’t that impressive because he’s a cowboy. Buff-bodied 21st Century mascot Captain also wears pants…and he’s a horse!

RAYS: Both Raymond and DJ Kitty are naked from the waist down, though Kitty is usually behind turntables.

REDS: Mr. Red and Mr. Redlegs (both baseball-headed, but not Mr. Met ripoffs, as they appeared as logos in the ‘50s, only becoming real living boys post-Mr. Met) both wear long pants, the latter to keep his already red legs out of the sun. Lady friend Rosie Red wears a full League of their Own-era uniform. Their rotund monster buddy Gapper lets it all hang out.

RED SOX: Wally the Green Monster wears highwaisted shorts and a belt, looking kinda old man-ish. His friends Lefty and Righty, a pair of walk around red socks, despite being a different article of clothing, wear pants.

ROCKIES: Dinger is not only pants-free since ’93 (actually ’94, but it didn’t rhyme), but he wears a short, peek-a-boo jersey, and his name sounds dirty. That said, he seems more like an exhibitionist child than someone who’d roofie you on a Wrigley rooftop.

ROYALS: Sluggerr is one of the buffest buff body types, appropriately introduced at the heart of the steroids era, and perhaps ‘roid rage explains some of his actions (he’s been sued for a hot dog gun attack and photographed freaking a naked stripper). You’re forgiven for not noticing his full uniform if you fixated on his gruesomely mutated, or perhaps surgically modified, head, which has crown-like points jutting from his cranium.

TIGERS: Though Paws wears an oversized, crotchcovering jersey, a trouserless tiger can’t hide his stripes.

TWINS: T.C. is pants-free. Their prior mascot, Twinkie had a kind of feathered diaper, and that’s weird enough to go in the no-pants side.

WHITE SOX: Ribbie and Roobard, rotund monster mascots from the ‘80s, kept their undercarriages aerated. The unofficially official mascot Andy the Clown (who was costumed in the sense that he was a clown) wore pants. Waldo the White Sox Wolf wore pants (though I think they only had animations and drawings of him, never a costumed character). And the current mascot Southpaw (a buff type) wears a full uniform. He is very nice to my son and hugs him a lot, which I might not allow if he were half naked.

YANKEES: The short-lived ‘70s mascot Dandy seemingly wore pinstriped pants, but the Seuss-like character appeared to perhaps have pinstriped fur. But I’m going with pants.

Thus, the numbers can’t lie: out of 69 (!) characters in the mascot era, 46 covered themselves, and 23 didn’t, and I don’t need Sabermetrics or a calculator to figure that a .666 average, while Satanic, is also Hall of Fame worthy. The numbers don’t lie: Clark should wear pants! That said, if in his current state of half-dress, the backwards-capped bear inspires the team to end their 106- year championship drought, I wouldn’t be surprised if the entire Chicago Cubs starting lineup plays in jerseys and jockstraps in ’15.

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