(as an in-studio guest of WFMU’s Tom Scharpling, the Chicken takes calls from listeners eager to debate the Burger King/Slipknot dispute).
A more predictable manager might have used his precious time with the news media to discuss his team’s Wild Card chances, or perhaps obbied for the Cy Young candidacy of his electrifying young right-hander, Dontrelle Willisl. Marlins skipper Jack McKeon, however, spoke to the Palm Beach Post’s Joe Capozzi about The Famous Chicken.
“I didn’t think he was very funny,” McKeon said as he sat with reporters in his office, smoke rising from a stogie. “His act is fine, but don’t think you’re bigger than us.”
McKeon, 74, is no curmudgeon when it comes to mascots. After all, he says he’s a fan of Billy the Marlin. “He doesn’t bother nobody,” McKeon said.
But the Chicken? He mimicked Rose’s headfirst dive, engulfed kids’ heads in his beak and lifted his leg near the umpires, mimicking a dog at a fire hydrant.
“Fans liked him,” McKeon said, choosing his words carefully. “Ah, the Chicken is all right. Do your act, and get the hell off the field.”
Jack, we get the feeling there’s more to the story.
He recalled a game in 1985 when the Chicken went too far. A St. Louis pitcher took a no-hitter into the seventh inning. The game was interrupted so the Chicken could ride a horse in the outfield.
The horse stopped to do his business, and when it finished, the Chicken had a tough time getting the beast off the field. Then the grounds crew needed time to clean the turf. When the game resumed, it didn’t take long for the Padres to break up the no-hitter.
The Chicken “was out riding a damn horse in left field, then he can’t get him off the field,” McKeon said. “Go out and do your thing, but don’t interfere with the game.”
The Chicken arrived in 1974. Five years later, he was famously hatched out of a 10-foot wide Styrofoam egg at a 1979 game while the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey played.
In 1984, the Padres went to the World Series with a roster McKeon helped build. But one season-ticket package featured games at which the Chicken would appear.
“We win the pennant and they want to make the Chicken bigger than the team,” he said. “Marketing people thought he was the reason we were putting people in the ballpark. Once you see him 10 or 12 times, come on.”
Part of the Chicken’s shtick was to perform skits with players.
“I wouldn’t let my players participate in that bull,” McKeon said. “They’re trying to get your guys in the bullpen… playing guitars on broomsticks.”