San Diego Chicken Game-Worn Costume

San Diego Chicken's head from game-worn costume in Baseball Reliquary collection.

San Diego Chicken’s head from game-worn costume in Baseball Reliquary collection.

On display in Baseball Reliquary exhibition at the Burbank Central Library, Burbank, California.

On display in Baseball Reliquary exhibition, Burbank Central Library, Burbank, California.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Among the artifacts in the Baseball Reliquary’s collection is a game-worn San Diego Chicken costume, donated by Ted Giannoulas.  The donation also included a number of game-used props like a whisk broom (to help umpires clean the plate); the infamous eye chart (to better assist umps in their chosen profession); a fake microphone (for on-the-field interviews); a foam-baked chicken (that visiting players and umps would eventually bring out as a warning); and the Chicken’s official warm-up jacket from the TV show The Baseball Bunch, which ran from 1982 to 1985 and won three Emmy Awards in its day. Baseball fans may remember watching the campy half-hour show on Saturday mornings, which featured Johnny Bench as the host with guest appearances by major leaguers such as Ozzie Smith, Pete Rose, Tom Seaver, George Brett, Don Mattingly, and Cal Ripken, Jr.  The players would demonstrate baseball fundamentals to Little Leaguers.  Another star of the show was the San Diego Chicken, who served as a comic foil to Bench as he attempted to keep the show under control.

San Diego Chicken and Eye Chart.

San Diego Chicken and Eye Chart. Photo courtesy of Graig Mantle.

The most popular and iconic of the mascots that became staples of major league baseball teams in the 1970s, the San Diego Chicken was the brainchild of Ted Giannoulas.  In 1974, while a student at San Diego State University, Giannoulas took a $2-an-hour job during spring break, wearing a rented chicken suit for local radio station KGB-FM and passing out promotional eggs at the San Diego Zoo. That gig was so successful that he decided to give the act a try at home games of the San Diego Padres.  The woeful Padres were willing to consider just about anything to boost attendance.  In his book Big Hair and Plastic Grass: A Funky Ride Through Baseball and America in the Swinging ’70s, author and historian Dan Epstein notes, “It was love at first cluck between the KGB Chicken and Padres fans, who loudly cheered the Chicken’s every pratfall and prank — especially when the latter came at the expense of the umpires and visiting players.”

The San Diego Chicken would soon become an entertainment revolution, with people coming to the ballpark to see him as much as to see the game, maybe more.  To many fans, the Chicken became a virtual folk hero, mocking the ceremonious, parodying the powerful, and cavorting with gleeful irreverence.  Even the Federal courts sanctioned the Chicken’s shtick.  In 1999, when the creators of Barney the Dinosaur sued Giannoulas for pummeling a Barney lookalike, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in the Chicken’s favor, citing “he was engaged in a sophisticated critique of society’s acceptance of this ubiquitous and insipid creature,” thus giving him the legal go-ahead to continue stomping on the annoying dinosaur’s head at ballparks from coast to coast.

Andy Strasberg with Ted Giannoulas, Shrine of the Eternals Induction Day, July 17, 2011, Pasadena, California.

Andy Strasberg with Ted Giannoulas, Shrine of the Eternals Induction Day, July 17, 2011, Pasadena, California.

In 2011, the Baseball Reliquary inducted Ted Giannoulas into its Shrine of the Eternals, honoring a man that author Don Malcolm describes as “criminally underappreciated for the invention of an alter-ego that literally transcends the milieu in which it was created.”  At the induction ceremony, Giannoulas was introduced by Andy Strasberg, who worked for 22 years for the San Diego Padres in a variety of advertising, marketing, and promotional capacities.  During his tenure, Strasberg worked closely with Giannoulas for many memorable events and routines.  They promoted a Chicken Season Ticket package, premium giveaway items featuring the Chicken’s likeness, and many TV ad campaigns such as the Padres’ “Go See Cal” parody that included Tony Gwynn as a member of San Diego State’s baseball team.  In addition to the Padres relationship, Strasberg was able to negotiate the Chicken’s appearance on a Donruss baseball card and co-authored a baseball trivia book with him.

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