MLB

Thurman Munson’s Untimely Death Is Why the New York Yankees Don’t Have a Mascot

The New York Yankees are one of the few Major League Baseball teams without a mascot. Twenty-seven of the league’s 30 teams have mascots who dance around, interact with young fans, and try not to wind up on the back page of a local newspaper.

Once upon a time, the Yankees actually had a mascot who resembled star catcher Thurman Munson. But when Munson passed away in 1979, the Yankees did their best to erase any memory of the short-lived mascot.

This is the story of Dandy, the Yankees‘ mascot from 1979-81.

Dandy was the New York Yankees’ response to the Phillie Phanatic

Yankees owner George Steinbrenner was a man who saw the value of money. Steinbrenner saw how popular mascots like Mr. Met, the Phillie Phanatic, and the San Diego Chicken were for losing franchises. Steinbrenner thought baseball’s most historic franchise would benefit from adding a mascot.

Enter Dandy, a pinstriped, mustached bird who unintentionally resembled All-Star catcher Thurman Munson. The Yankees leaded Dandy for three years and $30,000. Dandy debuted in July 1979, weeks after Steinbrenner said mascots had no place in baseball following an incident between outfielder Lou Piniella and the San Diego Chicken.

Thurman Munson’s death changed the Yankees’ plans for Dandy

New York Yankees catcher Thurman Munson was one of the most popular players in team history. His death in 1979 is partly why the Yankees don't have a mascot.
New York Yankees catcher Thurman Munson was one of the most popular players in team history. His death in 1979 is partly why the Yankees don’t have a mascot. | Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Dandy’s first game was a 4-0 victory over the Seattle Mariners on July 22, 1979. Fittingly, Piniella’s incident with the San Diego Chicken came when the Chicken was working for the Mariners earlier that month. Dandy, named after “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” would perform the same tasks that mascots all around the league did.

That is what Dandy was supposed to do, at least. The Yankees’ plans for their new mascot changed when Thurman Munson died in a plane crash on August 2, 1979. The Yankees immediately placed Dandy, who vividly resembled the star catcher, on hiatus.

Dandy eventually returned to the Yankees, though the team reportedly kept him in the upper deck area far from cameras and most fans. While mascots like Mr. Met and the Phillie Phanatic quickly became worldwide attractions, Dandy was nothing more than a giant bird hidden from most of the ballpark.

Interestingly, the Yankees still requested to sign another lease for Dandy when the lease expired. Wayde Harrison and Bonnie Erickson of Acme Mascots, who created Dandy, declined the request because they weren’t pleased with how the team treated Dandy.

The New York Yankees now pretend they never had a mascot

The New York Yankees have never had an official mascot since Dandy’s final game in 1981. This is where things become interesting. In a 1998 interview, George Steinbrenner claimed he had “no recollection” of Dandy. That was despite Steinbrenner’s involvement in the mascot’s creation and his final approval on Dandy’s coloring.

Yankees executives, including general counsel Lonn Trust, have said they were unaware the Yankees once had a mascot. Yankees team spokesman Michael Margolis told The New York Post last year that “there’s just no one left from that era that could speak to that experience.”

That is, aside from Bonnie Erickson. She told The Post she wasn’t surprised the Yankees wanted to pretend Dandy never existed.

“They always struck me as a team that’s very proud of their legacy. Why would they want to admit that they tried something that didn’t work?”