Skip to main content

April 25, 1978. 

17,227 were in the stands at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia to watch the Phillies take on the Chicago Cubs. The Phillies won the game 7-0, with newly elected Hall of Famer Jim Kaat earning the win.

But that wasn't the only spectacle to behold that night, as a large, furry, and green creature hailing from the Galapagos Islands appeared for the first time on the Astroturf that night: the Phillie Phanatic.

The Phanatic's creator, Bonnie Erickson, said the mascot's debut was a bit anticlimactic. 

"Everybody decided to just let him appear, not to make any big announcement," she said in a 2019 interview. "And so he just sort of appeared. He came on the field. The costume looked clean, bright and got a lot of laughs. It’s the laughs you're waiting for. So, all in all, that first day was a big success."

The days of the colonial Phil and Phillis were no more, as the Phillie Phanatic made his debut to the Philadelphia faithful that night, and he's taken the sports world by storm ever since. 

So, how did the most recognizable mascot in sports come to be?

The Phillie Phanatic's story begins with former Phillies owner and Vice President Bill Giles deciding that the team needed a mascot that was similar to the San Diego Chicken and would attract more families to the Vet. Giles and the Phillies sought out Jim Henson, the creator of the Muppets, asking him if he could design a new team mascot.

Henson said no, that he didn't really design things like that, but pointed them to Erickson. She had previously worked with Henson's Muppets, having designed Miss Piggy, and Waldorf and Statler, the two old hecklers on the balcony. 

Erickson, along with her husband, Wayde Harrison, established Harrison/Erickson in 1977. And their corporation began having meetings with the Phillies to design their new mascot and establish his background.

"I think I wanted to make a shape that was going to have its own sort of character," Erickson said. "So that if you put a performer or a human being in it, it was going to be funny just because of the way it moved."

"They had a slogan which was 'Philly, Be a Phillie Phanatic,'" Erickson continued. "I took that as wanting to have a megaphone. So that's where the snout for the Phanatic came from. And on the back, we wanted to give him a sort of logo of his own, so we gave him a five-pointed star."

And why the Galapagos Islands?

"Because, we figured, who could contest that?" Erickson explained. "This seemed to be the perfect background for a character that nobody could describe. It's a purely fantasy animal."

Philadelphia Phillies mascot the Phillie Phanatic dumps a large container of popcorn on an actor dressed as a New York Mets fan in the seventh inning at Citizens Bank Park.

Philadelphia Phillies mascot the Phillie Phanatic dumps a large container of popcorn on an actor dressed as a New York Mets fan in the seventh inning at Citizens Bank Park.

Now that the Phanatic was designed and had a backstory, it was time to find someone to give the creature life. The Phillies enlisted David Raymond, who was then working as an intern in the team's front office. Raymond portrayed the Phanatic for fifteen years, from 1978 to 1993, which he jokes that the Phillies "found the kid that was stupid enough to say yes" to taking the position.

"That first day, I went into Bill Giles's office and said, 'Mr. Giles, what do you want me to do?' A smile came across his face and he said, 'I want you to have fun,'" Raymond recalled. "I was tearing out of his office thinking, 'Wow, this is going to be easy,' and he screamed, 'G-rated fun!'"

Raymond said his first night on the job didn't go quite as planned, but ultimately helped shape the Phanatic's goofy and lovable personality. 

"The first night I fell over a railing by accident, and people laughed," he said. "So I was thinking, I have to fall down more. Slapstick humor was something I loved, I was a Three Stooges fan, I watched all the cartoons. It was Daffy Duck and Foghorn Leghorn and Three Stooges because that's what they laughed about."

Raymond continued to form the Phanatic's antics as the years went by, including dancing with the ground's crew.

"The first night I did that, I tripped one of the guys by accident, the kid tripped and fell, and people laughed," he said. "That turned into me running around the bases and at each base I would knock one of the kids over, and then we would all gather behind home plate and dance. Fans were giving us standing ovations, because they'd never seen the grounds crew animated!"

Perhaps one of the most iconic moments during Raymond's tenure as the Phanatic was his 1988 run-in with Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda. The Phanatic had messed with the late Dodgers' skipper for years, and it was all in good fun, until one night. 

"He just snapped, and he came out and tried to beat the ever-lovin’ you-know-what out of the Phanatic," Raymond said. The mascot and Lasorda patched things up following the incident, though.

Tom Burgoyne took over Phanatic duties in 1994 after serving as the backup from 1989 to 1993 and in the Phillies marketing department, as well as a creative force in the stadium scoreboard control room throughout the 1993 NL Championship season. Burgoyne has chosen over the years to be referred to publicly as the Phillie Phanatic's "best friend," in order to maintain the illusion that the Phanatic is his own being.

Since then, Burgoyne has capitalized on what Raymond had established during his time in the costume. He rides around on an ATV, wanders the stadium, mocks the opposition, and even shoots hot dogs out of a hot dog cannon. 

Some more of his regular routines include taunting the visiting team by dancing provocatively in front of their dugout, mocking the actions of their players, smashing or stomping on an object, such as a batting helmet representing the team, and standing on the roof of the Phillies dugout between halves of the seventh inning for "The Phanatic Dance." Other popular acts include remaining on the dugout roof for the home half of the inning to "hex" the opposing pitcher and visiting the various broadcast booths. 

He is also famous for committing various pranks such as pouring popcorn on the broadcasters, spraying Silly String on them, or serving them Philly cheesesteaks, and buffing the heads of any bald fans who happen to be sitting near him in the stands.

The Phillie Phanatic's antics have earned him a number of honors since his advent. The Phanatic was voted "best mascot ever" by a little known publication called Sports Illustrated Kids.

In 2005, Raymond founded the Mascot Hall of Fame, and the Phanatic was inducted as a charter member. In 2008, Forbes magazine named the Phanatic the best mascot in sports. In 2015, Good Morning America bestowed the honor of the best mascot in baseball on the Phanatic. And along with Youppi! and the San Diego Chicken, the Phanatic is one of only three mascots on display in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Of course, the Phanatic will always be the most beloved in his native Philadelphia, and that is why when the Phanatic was subsequently re-designed in Feb. 2020 following a legal battle with his creators, Phillies fans were quite upset. Luckily, after two seasons in the new costume changes to the shape of the snout, star-shaped eyelids, a longer tail with blue feathers on the end, and some scales, the original Phanatic will be returning to South Philadelphia in 2022. 

Since that April night in 1978, the Phillie Phanatic has captivated Philadelphia fans and sports fans alike with his lovable and funny personality and affinity for his favorite baseball team. We can't wait to see how the Phanatic, in his original attire, continues to entertain fans at Citizens Bank Park in his 44th season in 2022.

More From SI's Inside The Phillies:

Make sure to follow Inside the Phillies on Facebook and Twitter!