Which member of the A's organization is the toughest interview to land? Billy Beane? Mike Crowley? Bartolo Colon's diet advisor? No, that would be Stomper, the team's mascot, six-feet, six-inches of cuddlesome unavailability.
I have been looking to interview the polyester pachyderm as a cute way to introduce a discussion of mascot branding. Unfortunately, the A's front office has been very circumspect about the Big Guy. Circumspect is probably the wrong word. The A's maintain a positively Disneyesque secrecy about Stomper. I get the feeling the A's would rather reveal the numbers and security code of Beane's company credit card before they would divulge anything about the inner life of Stomper.
No matter. I'm a fully-accredited sports blogger now. I can just make stuff up when I need to.
Here are a few of the interesting items I found about Stomper and other baseball team mascots:
- The original A's elephant, Stomper's great grandfather, was conceived as a big "Bleep you!" to the Giants! More on that later.
- Stomper has his own twitter account, @Stomper00, with 5,535 followers. At the time I found that statistic, there were 99 people actively following Stomper. (Makes you think, doesn't it?) By comparison, Lou Seal, the Giants mascot, has only 5,018 followers. Munch on that mackerel, Lou!
- In addition to his green-jersey uniform, Stomper's wardrobe includes a tuxedo, combat fatigues, and an all-white disco ensemble. His clothing is designed by the House of Armani which means he spends more on dry cleaning than the A's do on starting pitching.
- Almost every MLB team has a mascot; the exceptions are the Yankees, the Cubs, and the two "Los Angeles" teams, the Dodgers and the Angels. (Even though the Angels reside next-door to the House of Mickey, I can understand their mascot reticence. An acetate angel roaming the stands might trigger spontaneous religious conversions or counter demonstrations from the Anaheim Atheists. But L.A. I do not understand. Hollywood can produce 183 sequels of Batman but can't put somebody in an oversized Dodger costume?)
- There is actually a Mascot Hall of Fame. Well, it's a Mascot Hall of Fame website, conceived in 2005 by David Raymond, the man who played the original Philly Phanatic. There are 18 inductees including the San Diego Chicken, the Philly Phanatic (of course), Mr. Met, and Slider, the Cleveland Indians mascot. (What, not Chief Wahoo?)
- Because of opposition from the American Marketers Association, MLB has not extended its PED testing program to team mascots, though there have been rumors about the Milwaukee Sausages for years.
The Genealogy of Stomper
The history of the A's elephant dates back almost as long the Giants' history of condescension. In 1902, Benjamin Shibe, a businessman who invented the first automatic stitching machine for manufacturing standardized baseballs, bought 50% interest in the Philadelphia Athletics. Looking to make a quick impression, Shibe began raiding star players from the established National League by offering big money contracts. Of course, "big money" was a relative term. Only a couple star players made more than $1,000 per season back then.
John McGraw, the manager of the New York Giants, was outraged by Shibe's profligate spending. (He also lost a couple players to the A's.) McGraw haughtily predicted to a reporter that the Athletics would turn out to be a "big white elephant." (For the colloquially-challenged, a white elephant is a big expensive item that serves no purpose and, ultimately, is more trouble than its worth. An example would be Donald Trump's hair.)
Connie Mack, the manager of the Athletics, read McGraw's dismissal of his team and immediately slapped a white elephant emblem on all the team uniforms. Hey John, McGraw this! When the two teams met in the 1905 World Series, the Athletics actually dedicated a white elephant statue to McGraw. He was so honored that his Giants team went out and smoked the Athletics four games to one. (Christy Matthewson established himself as a star in that Series by pitching 27 shutout innings and winning three games in a six-day span. Pitch count this!)
Okay, so the elephant joke fell flat in 1905. The white elephant emblem endured, though, until 1963 when Charlie Finley swapped out the elephant for a mule named Charlie O. to honor Missouri's Democrats. That year, Finley also jettisoned the Athletics long-time team colors of navy blue and white for the hues we know today, Kelly green, Fort Knox gold, and wedding gown white. (You would know this if you had read the placemats in the Coliseum's Westside Club.)
When Finley moved the A's west to Oakland in 1968, Charlie O. came, too. Fortunately, the mule croaked in 1976 leaving the A's mascotless for the remainder of Finley's term. The elephant returned when the Haas family took over. The retailing-savvy Haas regime turned the elephant into the kid-friendly Stomper in 1997.
The Business of Brand Mascots
Mascots like Stomper are smart business. They are a cost-effective way to reinforce brand loyalty, and not just with the 12-and-under set. Everybody loves a good brand mascot. In fact, mascots outperform celebrities when it comes to brand association.
In a study by Synthesio, a company that monitors social media marketing...wait, I can't go any further! Synthesio? Where do these companies get these ridiculous fusion names? Synthesio sounds like yet another sequel from Cirque de Soleil. Now all I can picture is a Bulgarian in spandex doing a one-armed handstand on a traffic cone.
Where was I? Oh, yeah, the marketing study. Between November, 2012 and April, 2013, the Bulgarian acrobats at Synthesio studied all web posts that mentioned a brand and the mascot or celebrity associated with that brand. The Pillsbury Doughboy kicked LeBron James' ass! The Doughboy generated ten times more social media chatter than did Nike's LeBron. Even worse, the top-five mascots (the Doughboy, the Aflac duck, Geico's gecko, Tony the Tiger, and Progressive Insurance's Flo) stomped all over Justin Timberlake (Bud Light), Ashton Kutcher (Nikon) and Michael Phelps (Subway) in terms of brand association.
So mascots are effective. They are controllable, too. Peyton Manning will be pitching twenty seven products before breakfast but you're never going to see the Doughboy plugging anything but Pillsbury. Even better, mascots are cheap.
The exact pay scale for mascots is something of a mystery. Stomper is known to work for peanuts. Years ago, the Crazy Crab made a sub rosa attempt to organize the mascots but the Crab was cooked when MLB cracked the plot. At last count, Scott Boras has zero mascots on his client roster so you know there won't be holdouts.
Even better, mascots pay for themselves! You want Stomper to stop by your seat at an A's game...$50. You want to tailgate with Stomper? $100. You want Stomper to stop by your kid's school and pass out "Student of the Month" certificates? $150. You want Stomper to be your Best Man at your wedding next month? Probably $400, more if Stomper has to go to the bachelor party. And don't forget reimbursement for travel expenses. Unfortunately, Stomper drives that Chevron cartoon car which guzzles more Techroline than an armored personnel carrier.
(Still, Stomper is a bargain compared to the Giants mascot. Lou Seal charges $450 for a ride around the field in his Seal Mobile during home games at Phone Booth Park, $550 when the Giants host the Athletics!)
There is a dark side to the mascot business, though. USA Today once identified mascoting as one of the ten worst jobs in sports. (It ranks just behind cleaning the dugout floor after a 19-inning game, and just ahead of being ARod's lawyer.)
Apparently, being a mascot is a fairly hazardous occupation. Falling is common. Imagine trying to negotiate stadium steps and dugout roofs with size 87 feet. Try sprinting around the field as a seven-foot sausage and you can see why mascot pileups are fairly common. Several years ago, Melissa Block, one of the jogging Milwaukee Sausages, was intentionally clobbered by a baseball bat. The assailant was not some drunken fan but a player! Roid Rage is suspected.
And the heat! Believe it or not, a real doctor, Ed McFarland M.D. and professor of orthopaedic surgery at Johns Hopkins, did a study of mascot injuries. (Confirming, yet again, there is always somebody, somewhere, who will study anything.) He estimated half of all mascots suffer from heat-related illness during their careers. Stomper himself claims to weigh a ton; following several appearances at an afternoon home game in late August, Stomper typically sheds about half his body weight in sweat. His pants alone, post-game, weigh more than 600 pounds.
One of the most famous wipeouts in mascot history occurred in Cleveland. In 1990, the Indians introduced their new mascot, "Slider," in an obvious attempt to mitigate the Indian-Chief Wahoo controversy. Slider is a homogenized, gender-neutral, non-racial, fuchsia-colored, Sesame Street-type character, in short, a PR Director's dream emblem. Well, the dream evaporated in the 1995 American League Championship Series. Slider was performing one of his routines when he pitched off a six-foot wall and tore his furry, little knee ligaments. He was transported to Muppet General Hospital and underwent ten hours of surgery performed by the Swedish Chef.
Suspiciously, Slider was back at work the next day, romping through his usual theatrics without any noticeable limp. In honor of his courage and strange, cartoon-like resilience, Slider was elected to the Mascot Hall of Fame. It makes me misty-eyed just thinking about it.
There's much more to the Stomper story, folks. Alas, this writer will be unable to report it. The cone of silence around Stomper cannot be lifted. Wouldn't it have been great to learn why Stomper never speaks? How does he tweet on his IPhone when he has fingers (toes?) the size of honey-baked hams? Does Shaquille O'Neal wear Stomper's castoff shoes? The closest I could get to an insider perspective was an anonymous source who said, "You may think Stomper is stupid, but the kids love him!"
Stomper, stupid? Au contraire. In the land of the ridiculous, the break-dancing elephant is king.