Mr. Met © 2014 MLB Advanced Media
Life as a Mets fan, as any fellow masochist will tell you, can be trying. In 1962, the Mets’ first year in the National League, the team went 40-120. In the more than half-century since, the Mets have had their moments, including World Series titles in 1969 and 1986, but the good teams have been few, and the miserable ones, plenty. In 2009, the Mets moved into the glorious Citi Field, and ever since, the team has bled fans and slashed payroll. The owners, who were fleeced by Bernie Madoff, will go into 2015 owing $600 million to the bank. Oh, and Matt Harvey, their fireballing phenom, blew out his elbow last summer and probably won’t be back this season. Let’s go, Mets!
Fortunately, in the form of a polyurethane hero, lives a rock upon which joy and laughter are built, regardless of the score — a totem to lift the heads of the weariest fans and bring a smile unto their faces. Meet Mr. Met (and don’t forget the missus!)
Last Sunday, I went to a game — Mets Win! — with my wife and daughter, where we spent a couple of innings waiting in line for the Mr. and Mrs. Met photo op. It was totally worth it, and extra special this time around, due to my deeper and richer understanding of the mascot’s life thanks to AJ Mass' delightful Yes, It’s Hot in Here: Adventures in the Weird, Woolly World of Sports Mascots. Mass, age forty-three, writes for ESPN.com's Rumor Central and wore Mr. Met’s sacred giant baseball noggin from 1994-97.
Yes, It's Hot in Here is a mix of history, lore, interviews with other famous mascots, and riotous anecdotes like one about the Secret Service telling him they’d go for the “kill shot” if he approached President Clinton during a game honoring Jackie Robinson. It also details his past-his-prime 2012 comeback, in which he tries to reclaim some of the old mascot glory by suiting up as a crustacean for the Lakewood, New Jersey BlueClaws.
More than anything, I was struck by the wisdom dispensed within Yes, It’s Hot in Here. I spoke with Mass, and a few other sports fellas, about what our fuzzy friends can teach us. Presenting, “Nine Mascot Life Lessons,” one for each inning of life.
1 ) It’s What’s on the Outside That Counts
"Carolina Hurricanes’ mascot Stormy the Ice Hog, which is to say the man inside the Stormy the Ice Hog costume, is hilarious, gregarious, charming, short, and was wearing a tuxedo tee-shirt when I met him. He will be the first to tell you that he isn’t the important one. The guy in the bag, meaning the Stormy Suit, is," says Hunter Whitworth, a Paste writer who recently, on behalf of The Classical, attended a birthday celebration for Stormy, an NHL mascot. “The man will skate flawlessly, in full anthropomorphic pig regalia, sometimes while strumming a guitar, or while playing musical chairs. The crowd loves Stormy. They have no idea who the man behind Stormy is, and he’s fine with that. He brings enormous joy to literal thousands, but he’s wearing a disguise. He’s the hero Gotham needs and deserves, if that hero was a giant pig on skates (it totally is).”
2) Don’t Judge a Mascot Until You’ve Walked a Mile in Webbed Feet
For the most part Yes, It’s Hot in Here is lighthearted and whimsical, but there are hazards of the job. For instance, mascots holding babies is a no-no for both parties. The little one can defile a suit in an instant, and the big one, says a former Mr. Met, has just four fingers, which aren’t made for gripping. There are serious work-related issues as well. The mascot’s craft is generally disrespected: Professionals are paid scant wages, often with no health insurance, and they suffer their share of injuries. There are a litany of mishaps, including the fate of a Phoenix Gorilla who face-planted into the rim while dunking and subsequently had to eat through a straw for a few weeks. As former Phillie Phanatic Dave Raymond believes, “There is power in having fun, and it’s essential to stop the fun-killers from winning the day.” True that. Just know for the most part, mascots aren’t making the scratch they deserve.
3) When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Chicken Soup
“During my childhood, and really every subsequent childhood after that, the San Diego Padres were a terrible team. We had very little to root for besides Tony Gwynn, but he usually only came to bat once every three innings. In the meantime we had to amuse ourselves. That's why the San Diego Chicken became very important for us. He was funny and entertaining. It was impossible not to watch him whenever he came on the field in between innings,” says Jorge Arangure Jr., a baseball writer for the New York Times and Sports on Earth. “Sometimes, you'd rather watch the Chicken in the stands than the Padres on the field. And then something amazing happened. The Chicken became nationally known. He would make appearances at other ballparks. All of the sudden, something about our lowly Padres was actually good. It wasn't the team on the field, unfortunately. It was a guy in a chicken outfit, but as a Padres fan, you take what you can get. ”
4 ) You Will Pay a Price for Having a Swelled Dome
The 1994 All-Star game was held in Pittsburgh, and a local riverboat company, Gateway Clipper Fleet, invited all the major league mascots to ride their vessels as a P.R. stunt. The escapade turned into an early morning jaunt with Willard Scott and "The Today Show." As Mass says, “I was left by myself on the dock for the next three hours, sadly waving my puppet arm at the small handful of people who happened by.” Mr. Met, it turns out — in the most literal metaphor of the perils of egotism on record — couldn't fit on board because of his giant head.
5) And Yet, Some Person’s Ego Will Always Be Bigger Than the Costume
There is an amusing subplot in Yes, It’s Hot in Here about what a world-class shitheel the San Diego Famous Chicken is. He’s the anti-Stormy the Ice Hog, apparently. In 1979, a police motorcade accompanied a ten-foot Styrofoam egg from which the Chicken was hatched in front of 47,000 people. Perhaps such early and excessive attention was the feathered equivalent of an athlete getting too much, too soon. Is that what led to the entitlement of his early career moves, which included swigging from fans’ beers and pulling down women’s tube tops? Aim for the respect of your peers, Mr. Famous Chicken, because, frankly, we don’t know who you are. To us, you are merely molting minor-league poultry.
6) Teach the Children Well Today, Have Fans Tomorrow
“I always knew that the vast majority of people in the stadium, did NOT come to see Mr. Met. I get that. But, you can't deny that it might very well be the case that — for at least some of the kids in attendance — the mascot might well be the main reason they were excited about coming to the game,” says Mass. “And if the person portraying the mascot doesn't interact well with those fans of the future, then there's a good chance that when those kids grow up and have kids of their own, the last place they'll want to take their family will be the old ballgame.”
7) Human Nature Abhors a Story Vacuum
“My friends and I used to spend several innings each game debating the origin story of Expos’ mascot Youppi!, as if he were a member of the X-Men. We finally concluded that he was once a cat who got stuck up on the Big O's orange [stadium] roof, was struck by lightning, and magically transformed into the giant, furry, orange beast who lives on today,” says Jonah Keri, a baseball writer for Grantland and the author of the Montreal Expos history Up, Up, and Away.
8) “Laughter is Like Changing a Baby’s Diaper...”
“...It doesn’t change anything permanently, but it sure makes things bearable for a while.” This pitch-perfect Zen koan comes courtesy of Dan Meers, who was the Chiefs’ K.C. Wolf for twenty-four years. Unfortunately, Meers was seriously injured in a zip-line gone wrong last season. Here’s hoping he’s back to making life bearable again real soon.
9) When It’s For the Kids, It’s. For. The. Kids.
Mass’ mascot life came full circle last October when his son Xander, “armed with papier-mâché, and the help of an incredibly artistic mother, went trick-or-treating as Mr. Met.” It’s a sweet ending, but an even more unforgettable scene comes when a father breaks down bawling to Dinger, the Colorado Rockies dinosaur. His young wheelchair-bound daughter had recently passed away, but until the end, she reminisced about playing with Dinger at a game. It was one of her happiest memories. Remember, grown folk. It’s not about your clever quips or drunken antics. It’s about the mascots. And the kids.
Oh and one more thing, it is hot as hell in there. Stop asking.