Alex Rodriguez dominates the week’s headlines in Major League Baseball. Many will be quick to accuse him of seeking this attention, of reveling in it, citing his ever-present need to remain center stage in a drama that could drag on for months. If that is so, he may be disappointed by his Twitter feed these past couple days.
For a newcomer stole the spotlight.
He did it without taking performance-enhancing drugs. Without appearing on Hall-of-Fame ballots. Hell, he did it without wearing pants.
This past week, the Chicago Cubs unveiled their first ever mascot, Clark the Cub. Initial reactions are mixed, with some crying cute, and others crying creepy. But for the Reds, it meant something more serious. A new mascot, a new rival had entered the NL Central. And the ultimate preseason question that afflicts every team in baseball came crashing into Mr. Red’s dressing room:
How do we measure up against the competition?
Mr. Red, the iconic mainstay in Cincinnati, already faces his detractors. SB Nation’s Grant Brisbee recently went so far as to rate Mr. Red the creepiest mascot in baseball, mostly for his eyes, which, admittedly, are probing and in desperate need of a blink. But before Clark entered the fray, he was hardly far behind in the kid-friendly category.
Bernie Brewer promotes excessive drinking (and dangerous slide-antics). Captain Jolly Roger is a pirate, likely not morally sound, and constantly angry-looking. And St. Louis’s Fredbird, mouth always open, looks like he’s about to eat rival fan babies. Essentially, the NL Central was once a safe haven for mascots that scared kids more than they entertained them.
Enter Clark the Cub. Let’s face it. Pants or not, he’s a teddy bear, with cute downward gaze, a backwards cap, and the lovable underdog mentality that comes with being associated with a franchise that hasn’t won a World Series since Prohibition ended (and Bernie Brewer became lawful, again). The kids are going to love Clark.
Meanwhile, Mr. Red rests on his laurels. He rests on the fact that his image has been a part of Cincinnati Reds history for decades, just a simple man with a baseball head. There’s something to be said for legends. They never die.
But children do cry.
And seriously, can someone get this guy an eyelid?
Unlike Clark the Cub, Mr. Red has backup. But do they help him keep the Reds atop the NL Central Mascot Standings (these exist now because I say so)? I’m not so sure. For one, Rosie Red is almost equally as creepy as her male counterpart. Though her eyes are warmer, she reminds one of Betty Boop, if her head was a bit more swollen and her curves hidden beneath a uniform straight out of League of their Own. She’s too human to be fun, too inhuman to trust with small children.
And then there’s Gapper, the mascot that came with Great American Ballpark like a troll comes with a bridge. On one hand, he’s definitely more kid-friendly, as he doesn’t suffer from Mr. Red’s syndrome in which he looks like a character that should be riding a bike in a Saw movie. But there’s also something unsatisfying about Gapper, like you’ve seen him before, like he doesn’t belong strictly to Cincinnati.
Perhaps it’s because he looks startlingly similar to a first-cousin of the Philly Phanatic. And no one can compete with the Phanatic.
So, as often happens in Cincinnati, it’s a lackluster lineup with promise. Mr. Red has stature. Gapper has wackiness. Rosie has friendly eyes. But together, they fall short of NL Central supremacy. A mascot needs a shtick to shine.
While Mr. Red relies on his status as elder statesmen, Bernie Brewer swept in and built an awesome yellow slide that he descends upon each home run. It’s silly. It makes little sense. And it’s brilliant. Everyone recognizes the moment. You can’t help but smile.
What does Mr. Red do? Or Gapper? Or Rosie? They just do what mascots do. They fall short of greatness. Time will tell if Clark the Cub rises to that challenge. But one thing seems certain: the division crown, already, doesn’t belong to Cincinnati.
Luckily, though, they have a hot prospect in the wings.
Buddy Bat is easily one of the best mascots in Minor League Baseball, and a fun Twitter follow. The heart of the Louisville Bats is kid-friendly, adept at social media, and performs enough stunts in the river city to earn some notoriety. Maybe it’s time to call him up. I’ve seen my share of Reds and Bats games in recent years. Kids are interested in the Reds mascots.
But kids adore Buddy Bat.
As Billy Hamilton nearly proved last year, sometimes it’s the late season call-up that can shift the standings. The energy changes. The fans get more excited. Fervor grows. Already, Clark the Cub is making waves.
Maybe it’s time the Reds let their own kid take the field. Otherwise, their new rival might surpass them.
In fairness, there’s another perspective to be had, here. Maybe Mr. Red is the perfect franchise that wants to be taken seriously after years of disappointment. For while other teams are worried about cute, about the kids, about a fun atmosphere in the outfield playground, the Reds are personified by the creepy man that walks their bleachers, who walks, talks, breathes as…
Nothing but baseball.