As you’ve probably heard by now, the Cubs are getting their first costumed mascot since this (frankly terrifying) thing back in the early 1900’s. When the story first broke, I was horrified. The Cubs have never needed a mascot before, they have Wrigley Field for that. This is just another extension of current ownership ruining everything that wasn’t already broken about the Cubs.* General sentiment certainly seems to be strongly in agreement with this train of thought. And that was before this NSFW version of Clark** was shown on TV for much longer than it needed to be.
*Which, frankly, are mostly off the field stuff. Clearly the Cubs don’t have the best track record of success, though it wasn’t that long ago they were serious contenders.
**I didn’t come up with it originally, but it’s totally true: there’s no way that name was picked without the thought of having a sister cub named Addison in the near future. The only thing that may stop it is this incredibly strong backlash. But I’ll bet that doesn’t even stop it. That’s okay, though. It will still be much less confusing than the Red’s mascot family. I’ll explain that down below the end of the article if you’re interested.
As I’ve thought about it more, though, I’ve made almost a complete turnaround the matter. Almost every professional and collegiate team has a costumed mascot, and they are generally well-received. Cardinal fans love Fredbird. Mr. Met is well-beloved. Bernie Brewer is pretty cool, though admittedly not as cool as Barrel Man. And, of course, the grand royal of them all, the Phillie Phanatic. Look beyond baseball. Nearly every team in every sport has a mascot, and they are almost all loved, at least within their communities. Even more so are the college mascots. Of course, I’m most partial to Wally Wabash and Purdue Pete. But you don’t have to look too far to think of other awfully prestigious mascots, like at Notre Dame, Florida State, and USC. Illinois used to have one, but that didn’t go over quite as well with certain groups. Still, you can still easily find a lot of love for Chief Illiniwek, even though he’s gone. Given some time, mascots become a beloved part of the game, especially for folks who grew up with those mascots as children. And that’s the key.
I am not a child, nor are the people railing against poor Clark. When you are so far outside of the target demographic, you just plainly aren’t in the position to pass judgement. Don’t like the mascot? It’s really not that hard of a thing to ignore. If you’re interested in watching the game, then just watch the game, throw back some Old Style,* and have yourself a hell of a time. Believe me, that will still be very possible with a pantomime bear or two walking around. If there is one hope that most fans (mostly male, but I’m sure female, too) have, especially with baseball, it’s passing on the game to your children and making that link in the chain. And this will help.
*For a long time, I thought that to get Old Style in Lafayette-West Lafayette, I had to get it draught from either Harry’s or DT Kirby’s. And those are definitely both great options, no doubt. But sometimes, you just want to chill at home. I did finally find it sold at the Bar Barry by Five Points, though. That day was a good day.
Baseball has been played professionally on a national stage for a long time, much longer than our other big time sports. The deep, rich history of the game is one of it’s greatest benefits. Sometimes it can be an oppressive weight, true, but usually it truly is one the great joys of the game. I’m sure my family is not unique in this, but baseball forms a chain of fanhood that other sports just can’t compete with. Their histories are simply not long or strong enough. Baseball is maybe the strongest bond that runs all the way through my dad’s side of the family. You have to stick more than one “great” in front, but there was a professional* pitcher in the family. From there, you have an unbroken chain of baseball fanaticism that runs all the way to the latest generation of Parrishes. And that chain splits off into different branches that pass it on to their own latest branches, link by precious link. I know of the greatest hopes I have for my (not very distant, fingers crossed) future children is to pass my knowledge and love for the game down to them, to make them another link in the chain, the way my dad did for me. Even if Ryne Sandberg ruined me on the Cardinal fan part of it.**
*Maybe semi-pro would be a better way to describe it.
**I really do struggle with whether I should encourage my children to be Cub fans or maybe subtly push them to be sensible Cardinal fans like the rest of the family. If you’re really there for love of the game, being a Cub fan is painful business. At the end of the day, though, I suppose I can’t really make that decision for them, just like my dad couldn’t make that decision for me. As the saying goes, the heart wants what it wants.
I know there are those that think that Clark will detract from this process. That argument, though, is just plain crazy. At the start, you’re going to want anything that draws interest into the game. If it really is the game itself, great. But it doesn’t hurt to have a good backup plan, and now the Cubs have another. If it’s not the game that initially draws them in, or if they don’t really understand why Wrigley is so important and grand, or if belting out the 7th inning stretch in a way no other stadium can do it doesn’t work, here’s another avenue. There’s a good chance you’ll have to take it in baby steps, and if the cartoon bear is that first step, you ought to be grateful for it. Sure, it’s change, and change is scary. But change is not necessarily bad. I’ve not necessarily liked all the changes that have been brought to Wrigley Field, but honestly, this one is pretty damn tame. If it makes you feel better to rip on a cartoon bear, do it. But there are far bigger problems that should bother you a whole lot more.
All right, the Reds. It all started with Mr. Redlegs. You’re probably familiar enough with him, he’s certainly one of the most famous mascots in baseball and somebody Mr. Met certainly owes a huge debt to. You also might be familiar with Rosie Red. Those two go together well enough, they make a nice couple of mascots. But then, sometime in the 70’s, Mr. Red came along. Simply Mr. Redlegs without the signature mustache? You might think so, but clearly Mr. Red also lacks the distinctive crazed eyes. Definitely a different thing altogether. He hung around until 2007, when Mr. Redlegs made his triumphant return. All’s well in the family again, right? Except that, in 2002, Gapper came along. The “young” mascot. You don’t have to stretch your imagination too far to imagine he is some sort of hideous offspring of Rosie Red (other than being fuzzy instead of baseball-headed). That part is easy enough. But who is the father? Mr. Red, as he would have been the stable partner at the time? Or was a forbidden romance rekindled with the seemingly-absent Mr. Redlegs, who finally returned to make his family legitimate? The Reds website is awfully tight-lipped about such things, though Mr. Red’s Wikipedia article mentions that there was a new Mr. Red mascot for the 2012 season (I can’t personally confirm this) that appeared alongside Rosie, Gapper, and, most importantly, Mr. Redlegs, which would seem to confirm that they are, in fact, separate entities. That clearly can’t be a comfortable family situation for any of the involved parties. It also clearly would make one hell of a soap opera or Lifetime movie. WHY DOESN’T THIS EXIST?