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LEARNING DAY

Learning Day: The Cursed Lore of Southpaw 🌭

Hi! I’d like to introduce you to “Southpaw.” He is the mascot of the Chicago White Sox.

He is also a gateway to 125+ years of cursed lore.

A little housekeeping up top: I like Southpaw just fine. He is green and besnouted and joyful. The lady inside the suit seems nice. Also I mean it both ways when I say I like Southpaw just fine. He’s unmemorable. He’s derivative. He’s not a pioneering weird mascot (San Diego Chicken, 1974) or avant garde mascot (Phillie Phanatic, 1978) or ironic “anti-mascot” (San Francisco Giants “Crazy Crab”, 1984). Southpaw premiered in 2004, long after the era of mainstream mascot innovation. He also premiered before the era of proletarian mascot revolution (Philadelphia Flyers “Gritty”, 2018) and dystopian mascot annihilation (see below).

Southpaw lacks those ambitions/ammunitions. He is here to make a few kids happy. That’s all most mascots want…I hope. I did google “yiffing” once, because somebody said that word around me once and I’m compelled to understand all things. Why did I look into it? Because I love discovering why things are, to pull a random phrase, “secretly incredibly fascinating.” Anyway I’ve now grokked “yiff”. And I don’t know every mascot’s heart. But Southpaw seems like he’s on the “Muppets (Tame Division)” end of the Sexual Fabric-Being spectrum.

And for most people, that’s all there is to Southpaw. They think that set of thoughts about him (that ENTIRE EXACT set of thoughts about him) and move on. But if you’re me, you self-impose a quest of pointless discovery. You learn Southpaw is a doorway into these four astounding tales of accursed baseball mascots.

I’m a lifelong Chicago White Sox fan. When I lived in the region, I went to games in person. And when Southpaw came onto the scene, he gently gaslit every adult I knew. Here’s why: the Chicago White Sox began existing in 1901. People got used to a certain White Sox routine over that century. 2004 was also a much different media time from today. Newspapers and television had bigger, Bush-ier fish to fry. “The Facebook” was Ivy Co-eds Exclusive. Phone camera resolution was on the “Grainy Bigfoot Photo” step of the tech tree.

So most adults I knew weren’t forewarned about the White Sox marketing department’s new schemes. They got no warning. A sudden green weirdo up and Kool Aid Man’d their ball games. And they grappled with questions: Who was this mascot? Why was this mascot? And most terrifying: had this mascot always been there? Like in that famous psychology experiment where subjects watched a video where a gorilla walks through the frame and most subjects missed the gorilla? Grown White Sox fans wondered that. They wondered if green mascots were always there, throughout their lives, surrounding them like endless fuzzy ‘The Matrix’ code.

By the way, I handled this fine. In 2004, I was a child. I felt barraged with new characters/experiences/Iraq Wars every day. But for adults discovering him, Southpaw sparked at least a few questions about memory and reality. Which rules. Because – in case anyone forgot – Southpaw is a mascot. A trifle. A sports clown.

Speaking of sports clowns, do you wonder why Southpaw could become the White Sox mascot? Why was the gig open? Why wasn’t there a fuzzy incumbent? Admittedly, there’s one good reason you might not have wondered this. You might know many baseball teams lack mascots, for old-fashioned crust-assedness reasons. Pre-20th century America lacked a fursona industrial complex, and that’s when many baseball teams began.

But the 20th century White Sox’s asses were the most crust-free. They strapped their scoreboard full of fireworks. They created the most radical Sports Illustrated cover of all time. They even tried wearing shorts (a HUGE baseball no-no, and an impossible garment if one’s ass is becrusted). The White Sox tried to be more fun than every other team in the league. Naturally, they attracted a team mascot. In fact, they attracted… [ominous voice] …too many team mascots. [ominous ballpark pipe organ]

From their beginnings to the 1970s, the White Sox had no official mascot. And nature abhors a mascot vacuum. So a kind fan named “Andy The Clown” started showing up to games, dressed as a clown, to bring children joy for free. SouthSideSox.com documents what happened next: ballpark ticket takers let Andy The Clown enter without paying. Andy’s legend grew.

At one game, Andy sat in the Mayor Of Chicago’s lap, as a joke – a joke I also assume made him Temporary Super Mayor. And then in 1980 (Peak Andy), White Sox team ownership launched a multi-front war against him. They ordered ballpark staff to start charging Andy for game tickets. And they introduced two official mascots, specifically to supersede Andy. Their chosen fuzz-thugs were “Ribbie” and “Roobarb”, a pair of Phillie Phanatic Phnock-offs.

Between the cruelty to Andy, and the Pinkerton-icity of Ribbie and Roobarb, the fanbase revolted. Fans protested. And this was an era when you could only contact someone by calling their corded phone, writing them a letter, or running into them at your local music-burning rally. Despite those Stone Age communication limitations, White Sox fans ran a protest on behalf of a gentle clown. The team buckled. The team temporarily let Andy back in. Then they reneged in 1991. Andy opted to purchase tickets, and continue clowning at his own expense, until 1995…when he died. Fans also never liked Ribbie and Roobarb, regardless of their motivations. They hounded & harassed those two until the team junked them in 1988. And remember: this entire conflict happened in the field of sports mascoting. There was a fans versus team, David versus Goliath power struggle to determine who waved at children from out-of-bounds. And the winner…was death.

This story is quick. Also not a White Sox story. But it’s another “W” for the reaper. 

The New York Yankees lack a mascot. That’s partly due to crust-ass-itude. (See also: the Yankees’ love of force-shaving grown men.) Here is the main reason the New York Yankees lack a mascot: they tried one, named “Dandy”. And it became the biggest tragedy in mascot history.

Dandy was an initial hit, mostly because he resembled Yankees star Thurman Munson (see human above). Then, within months of Dandy’s introduction, Munson died in a plane crash. The team tried to keep Dandy going, but Dandy reminded everyone of that tragic dead guy too much. It turns out a fun sports mascot can feel like the Austrian horror film Goodnight Mommy. And that’s not the only way it can all fall apart…

…because in a more fundamental sense, a team’s mascot is its name. Names are a risk. Names change meanings! You can be minding your own business, in 1890, naming your team “the Cincinnati Reds”. And then boom: international communism happens. By 1953 you’re changing names to “the Redlegs”, even though it makes your players sound like they need Group Ointment Therapy.

Most teams do a direct 1:1 name-to-mascot. The Eagles put a guy in an eagle costume. The Bulldogs put a guy in a bulldog costume. Also the Yale University sports teams are fancy (duh) and breed real bulldogs (cute) as their puppy mascots (yikes child labor much?), complete with king-style Roman numeral’d names (a constitutional dogarchy).

So how did the White Sox get their name? In 1901, so many good animals were not taken yet! Also, a sock cannot be a mascot. Oh sure, it can be a wrestling sidekick slash caregiver. It can be a television host… in Canada. But the “White Sox” name isn’t sparked by wanting to put a guy in a sock outfit. Instead, it’s at least partly sparked by a turn-of-the-century death scare. 

Colorful socks became popular uniform gear in the late 1860s. Cleats became popular baseball gear too. Baseball cleats have metal spikes. A sliding runner can stab a defender’s legs. And in the 1900s/1910s, a false medical concern started going around the league. People worried sock dye could get into a cleat wound, and cause an infection, and kill the player. No players died of this false belief. But people panicked anyway. As a result, “sanitary” white socks became popular league-wide. The White Sox uniforms emphasized theirs. And because of that celebration of a solution to a fake problem, the team lacks an easy-to-mascotify name. 

Which brings us to today. Southpaw is the shrug at the end of more than a century of wondering what cartoon character best represents placebo safety laundry. And honestly? That makes him more fun to me. I’m actually finally interested in Southpaw now. Because while others dismiss him on websites like Reddit.com:

…you and I are here, on the best website, knowing Southpaw is [the title of Alex’s podcast].

One reply on “Learning Day: The Cursed Lore of Southpaw 🌭”

My interest in baseball is about the same as my interest in Tik Tok stars: zero. My interest in baseball mascots is slightly higher… Perhaps more akin to Tik Tok stars tripping on an uneven sidewalk.

This article was funny, informative, and interesting! (Much like Tik Tok stars discovering they’re allergic to peanut butter.) Thank you!

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