Friday, May 4, 2012

MR. MET WAS NOT THE FIRST M. L. MASCOT!

Mr. Met
Mr. Met
 
Mr . Met is credited by the Mascot Hall of Fame with being the first Major League costumed mascot.

WRONG! Ten years before Mr. Met or any other Major League mascot appeared there was MR. ORIOLE! The New York Mets mascot was conceived in 1963 and made his debut in 1964. Mr. Oriole was hatched in 1954!

Here's the story in brief. I was the first Public Relations Director of the Orioles, having joined the club a few days after the St. Louis Browns' franchise was purchased by a group of Marylanders headed by Clarence Miles, a prominent Baltimore-Washington attorney, in the Fall of 1953. There was much to be done in establishing the new Major League organization, especially when our new home, Memorial Stadium, was still under construction.

An early priority was to develop a stylized Oriole for use on our baseball caps, stationery, and various concessions items. We announced a contest, inviting local artists to submit their versions, the winner to receive a cash prize. I was looking for a jaunty but likable bird, one with plenty of personality. Several excellent entries were received, but one set stood out above all the rest. They were submitted by Jim Hartzell, a cartoonist for the Baltimore Sun.   

We named our new mascot "Mr. Oriole," and his perky bird face was quickly popularized. About the same time I wondered if would be possible to create a costume that would replicate the expression and appearance of Mr. Oriole, so that a three-dimension version of the bird could cavort on the field and in the stands during the games. My high school friend and teammate Johnny Myers knew a costume designer whose name was Tinker, a relative of the famous Chicago Cubs shortstop Joe Tinker. After examining the sketches of Jim Hartzell, Mr. Tinker excitedly accepted the challenge, and within a few weeks had produced a handsomely made costume. I prevailed upon Johnny to be the first "Mr. Oriole," because, as I jokingly put it, "he had the legs for the part!"

Johnny Myers
Mr. Oriole as he appeared  in the
1955 Baltimore Orioles Sketchbook
 
Early in the 1954 season, when the strikingly colorful bird made his first public appearance at Memorial Stadium following a proper introduction over the public address system, the fans went wild. Mr. Oriole cavorted with the fans and the players to everyone's delight, but the pièce de résistance was when he whipped out from beneath one of his feathered wings  a trumpet, which he could play through his beak. Johnny was an excellent jazz musician, and the effect was sensational! We had the only trumpet-playing bird in captivity!


I don't know what ever happened to the original Mr. Oriole.  I left the Orioles at the end of the 1955 season in order to enter Princeton Theological Seminary to study for the ministry. Apparently the costume disappeared along with many other invaluable materials, including front office files and records, when the Birds moved to Camden Yards. It is hard to imagine how an object that large could vanish. I don't know how long it has been missing. It might be in someone's garage or basement. I'm the last surviving member of the first front office executive staff of the Orioles, so there's no one I know who can shed any light on the mystery, including Johnny Myers, who died prematurely.

The irony is that when I called the Orioles Public Relations Office to see if they could help, the person I talked with had never heard of Mr. Oriole. "Our mascot is The Bird," he declared almost belligerently. "He was hatched in 1979!"

"I've got news for you," I replied as pleasantly as I could. "The Bird had a predecessor named Mr. Oriole, who was hatched in 1954!"

1 comment:

  1. Hi,
    I am an avid 1954 orioles collector and have been looking for the Mr Oriole costume for a while. I was curious if you had any souvenirs left over from 1954? Especially anything from the Homecoming parade. I have been looking for the cardboard sign with bird on ball that hung from each side of the parade floats.
    Thanks
    John

    ReplyDelete