Spring training is upon us and everyone in Major League Baseball is mad. Fans are upset at the Houston Astros over a sign-stealing controversy that even LeBron James is cursing about. The Red Sox traded their best player because they didn’t want to pay him next season, and even a beloved mascot is going under the knife in Philadelphia.
Word came earlier in the weekend that the Phillies may debut the new look for the Phillie Phanatic at spring training on Sunday, which drew a lot of concern from Phillies fans about the mascot they’ve come to love over the last few decades. And, indeed, Sunday came with a slightly slimmed down Phanatic.
First look at the "evolved" Phillie Phanatic. 👀
— Matt Rappa (@mattrappasports) February 23, 2020
There’s not a whole mess of changes here, though it does look like the Phanatic went Keto to lose some inches on the waistline. It also now has stars in its eyes, as you can see in a side-by-side here.
First look at the subtle changes to the Phanatic, and he’s looking pretty slim! Maybe losing Gabe Kapler did the trick? pic.twitter.com/Omy1zXEf9g
— Phils Nation (@PHLPhilNation) February 23, 2020
Also, the Phanatic has hands and dragon scales now?
He has evolved, but clearly hasn't matured. pic.twitter.com/Tmo5jHNQOB
— Philadelphia Phillies (@Phillies) February 23, 2020
The question is, why mess with a good thing if you’re the Phillies? And as is often the case in baseball, it’s a matter of a franchise not willing to pay up. As explained by Philly Voice, the team and a design firm are in the middle of a lawsuit over who owns the Phanatic’s likeness, as the firm was hired to create the mascot in the 1970s.
In 2018, the Phillies received a notice of termination from Harrison/Erickson Inc., the New York-based creative company the club hired to design the Phanatic in the mid-1970s. Harrison/Erickson claimed they created the copyrighted character of the Phanatic and retained the right to terminate the contract if the Phillies and the company didn’t reach a new agreement by June 15, 2020.
Last June, the Phillies filed a lawsuit against Harrison/Erickson, arguing that a 1984 renegotiation with the company transferred these rights “forever.” The team has also points (sic) to its role in creating the character and personality of the Phanatic, not just the costume.
Artists are allowed by federal law to renegotiate their rights after 35 years, but the Phillies believe some minor changes to the costume will quash Harrison/Erickson’s legal argument.
In other words, the changes to the Phanatic’s silhouette, eyes and socks are not an attempt to modernize the mascot as much as it is to avoid having to pay Harrison/Erickson for the rights to their work. Fans that were worried about changing the beloved mascot in the first place now know it’s kind of a crummy reason for them even doing it at all.
Todd Zolecki of MLB.com interviewed Phillies executive vice president David Buck, who didn’t deny that the changes are lawsuit-related.
“I think it would be naïve not to think there’s a connection,” Buck said. “But at the same time, he has changed over the years. There have been little changes as things go on. … If you look at the current one, there are probably 10 or 12 changes over the last 40 years that no one has ever noticed. He’ll have a few more tomorrow. Some of them even came out last year. He wore Bryce Harper’s Phanatic shoes. He wore different color socks last year. He copied [Andrew] McCutchen’s shoes last year. So there have been changes.”
It’s disappointing that the Whole 30 Phanatic exists for the sake of settling a lawsuit, especially when it will allow the team to avoid compensating creators for their intellectual property. But at least everyone’s on the same page now.