Whether they’re leading fan chants during timeouts or entertaining the halftime show, team mascots aren’t just apart of the game, they are adored by fans.
Sometimes these beloved characters can be quite strange, though. Whether you’re watching Gritty, the furry orange mascot of the Philadelphia Flyers, or Southpaw, the fuzzy neon green face of the Chicago White Sox, sometimes it’s impossible not to wonder where these creatures came from.
In fact, what does the word mascot even mean? Educated first guesses might assume it to be associated with team pride or camaraderie.
However, the word mascot actually comes from the french word mascoto, which translates to witch or sorcerer. In the 1860s, the spelling was changed to mascotte and used as a slang term for a type of charm or luck for betting gamblers.
The first time mascotte was used as an American term was in an issue of The Sporting Life Magazine in 1883. The magazine used mascotte to reference a young boy who ran errands for a local baseball team and was believed to be their lucky charm. It wasn’t until 1886 that Macotte was changed to its final spelling as mascot and used to describe young children and live animals that were associated with different teams. These children and animals were expected to stand side-by-side with their teams during games and were even included in team pictures.
The first mascot to become a true characterized personality of a team was Max Patkin, a former White Sox minor league player. Patkin was known for his antics during games and often mocked and performed imitations of his teammates. As Patkin’s role as the team entertainer grew, he spent less time as a player and ultimately began a five year career as the team’s mascot. His costume consisted of an oversized White Sox uniform and his iconic baseball hat turned sideways.
Soon, he was a recognizable celebrity to fans.
Since Patkin was the first mascot to create a career from his larger-than-life character, he was instrumental in shifting the purpose of mascots from good luck charms to fan entertainment. Patkin’s interactions with fans during games also helped to solidify mascots as a connecting link between fans and their players. With fans attending games with new expectations of being entertained, previous charms like children and animals were replaced with more lively team characters.
With the opportunity to create more colorful personalities as mascots, teams began to debut new and interesting creatures as the leaders of their fanbase. Mascots such as Mr. Met, Phillie Phanatic, and Oriole Bird were all some of the first characters to debut during the 1960s as the new faces of the mascot wave.
Those first few mascots have evolved into the league of characters fans know, love, and cheer with today. Their names and costumes may have changed throughout the years, but their function still follows Patkin’s original footsteps as embodiments of luck and team pride.