It was 20 years ago today… okay, I'm actually off by a day (blame A-Rod if you must), but it's still worth noting that Thursday marked the 20th anniversary of one of baseball's great debuts: that of the sport's top sideshow, the Milwaukee Brewers/Klement's Famous Racing Sausages. To mark the occasion, the Brewers and Klement's sponsored a free 6 a.m. breakfast along the shore of Lake Michigan, with commemorative t-shirts given away. A pregame ceremony at Miller Park followed, featuring a race involving the original three contestants, and first pitch thrown out by the race's originator, Michael Dillon. Despite my participation in the race back in 2005, I was not asked back. The video below will explain why.
The race began in the early 1990s as an animated feature on the Milwaukee County Stadium scoreboard, featuring three characters, the Bratwurst ("Brett"), the Italian ("Guido") and the Polish ("Stosh"), a tribute to the diversity of cultural backgrounds that come together to enjoy our national pastime while snacking on a variety of encased meats. According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, in the fall of 1992, Dillon, a local graphic designer at McDill Design, presented an idea to Brewers vice president of operations Gabe Paul (whose son Jeff worked at McDill) to transform the race to live action. On June 27, 1993, the costumed sausages made their debut — postponed by a day due to a scoreboard malfunction — with Dillon, running as the Bratwurst, winning. Video of the debut actually exists:
Originally, the sausages were merely an occasional feature reserved for high-attendance days, but by 2000, the team's final year in County Stadium, they had become a fixture in the middle of the sixth inning of every game, and the tradition was carried over to Miller Park when it opened in 2001. At some point in the mid-1990s, the Hot Dog ("Frankie Furter") joined the ranks, and in 2006, the Chorizo ("Cinco") debuted in honor of Hispanic Appreciation Night, though because Major League Baseball has an approval process for new mascots, the Chorizo didn't become a full-time racer until the following season.
The sausages helped Brewers fans make it through the lean years of the Bud Selig and Wendy Selig-Prieb era (when the former became full-time commissioner, he had to transfer his ownership stake and his role as team CEO to his daughter). From 1993 through 2004, the Brewers failed to post even a .500 record. In 2005, their first year under new owner Mark Attanasio, they finished right at .500, but they didn't top that until 2007, or return to the playoffs until 2008, breaking a string of 25 consecutive seasons on the outside of October.
The most famous incident involving the sausage race is almost certainly the time in 2003 when the Pirates' Randall Simon took a swing at the Italian with a bat. He was fined $432 after being cited for disorderly conduct. Back in February, the Italian costume — which like the others, is about 7-foot-3 and costs around $3,000 — went missing, worn out of a Cedarburg, Wisc., bar by an unidentified perpetrator who made two other stops at area bars. As later came to light, it was part of a prank executed by six "over-served and underappreciated" Wisconsin residents aging from 26 to 55 who, among other things, recorded a "Harlem Shake" video (remember back in 2013, when that was a fad?) before two unidentified men returned the costume, dropping it at a bar and running away after telling the bartender she "didn't see anything."
I have my own history with the Sausage Race, having finagled my way into a slot one Sunday in September 2005, an incident I documented for the Baseball Analysts website. The Sunday races are relays, so it's not entirely my fault that the Hot Dog finished third, with Padres announcer and former major league pitcher Mark Grant leaving us in the dust before tagging a similarly costumed child (a Little Weenie, as they're called) who finished the race. For the first time ever, I present the video of this event to the general public. That's me, number 4, trading paint with the lederhosen-wearing German costume worn by the Twins' CFO:
For a fuller look at what goes on behind the scenes of the race, check out this video from the MLB Fan Cave:
In recent years, the Pirates have introduced the Great Pierogi Race and the Nationals a Presidents Race, but it will be a long time before either of those or any other mascot race supplants the Sausage Race as top dog (sorry).