Often imitated but never duplicated, the Milwaukee Brewers Sausage Race may be the sport's top sideshow. The mascot-induced mania helped Milwaukee fans survive the lean years of the latter-day Selig era, and today the iconic Bratwurst, Chorizo, Hot Dog, Italian Sausage and Polish Sausage costumes pay tribute to the diversity of fans who come together to enjoy our national pastime while snacking on encased meats.
Alas, there's trouble in Sausageland. According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the Italian Sausage costume has gone missing. Someone besides the 7-foot tall costume's intended wearer departed with it from the Milwaukee Curling Club in Cedarburg, Wisc., back on Feb. 16, and made two appearances that same night while wearing it at other area bars. Since then, nobody has seen the costume, despite police grilling several bar patrons.
The costumes, which are owned by the Klement's Sausage Company, cost about $3,000 apiece. As a veteran of the Sausage Race — I ran as the Hot Dog one day in September 2005 and finished third — I can testify first-hand that they're hot and cumbersome, and that peering through the mesh at the collar level of the mascots' heads makes navigating even the shortest distance a perilous task. Their iconic status and lack of mobility makes them obvious targets for mischief; who can forget the Pirates' Randall Simon taking a swing at one — the Italian, in fact — with a bat back in 2003? Simon was cited for disorderly conduct and fined $432; he never made such solid contact with a bat over the remainder of his major league career.
Police aren't certain that the theft of the costume is a prank, but given the likelihood that alcohol played a part in its disappearance from a beer-tasting event, that may well be the case. Mustard Girl All-American Mustards is offering a year's supply of — what else? — mustard to wheover returns the costume, but in the meantime, the president of Klement's, Jennifer Connor, says that the sausages can't race without their missing member. "We have to keep our Sausage Racers whole," she told the Journal-Sentinel.
The Sausage Race originated in the early 1990s, initially as the live-action completion of an animated race that took place on the scoreboard during Sunday games at Milwaukee County Stadium. By 2000, the team's final year in that ballpark, the race was so popular that it became a fixture at the end of the sixth inning of every home game, and the tradition was carried over to Miller Park in 2001. Initially, the Bratwurst, Italian, and Polish were the three contestants, with the Hot Dog introduced sometime in the mid-1990s, and the Chorizo debuting in 2006 but not added to the full-time slate until 2007, because believe it or not, Major League Baseball has an approval process for new mascots.
No word on whether MLB's investigative unit or the team's own Bernie Brewer will be called in to help crack this case. Update: Fox Sports Wisconsin reports that the costume has been returned to T.J. Ryan's bar in Cedarburg, one of the bars where it was spotted after it was taken from the Milwaukee Curling Club. Two people ran into the bar on Wednesday night and dropped it off but left before they could be identified, telling the bartender that "she didn't see anything" as they sprinted away. Police are still investigating the matter.