By Dave Wischnowsky –
(CBS) When it comes to championships, the New York Yankees and Chicago Cubs don’t have a whole lot in common.
But when it comes to mascots? Well, they do. That’s because neither franchise has one. The Dodgers and Angels don’t either, making the Cubs among only four Major League Baseball teams to not have a costumed character patrolling the interior of their ballpark.
You know, besides Ronnie “Woo Woo.”
I’m wondering, however, how long the Cubs will keep that common thread with the Yankees. Because, the recent news that the Cubs are trying to kill off an unofficial mascot outside their ballpark has me suspicious that they’re only doing it because they want to put their own official one inside Wrigley.
And I’d really rather they didn’t do that.
Last week, NBC Chicago reported that Major League Baseball recently sent a 100-plus-page letter to Chicagoan Jon Paul Weier, demanding that he cease and desist his activities as “Billy Cub,” the unauthorized bear mascot who wanders Wrigleyville before Cubs games wearing a pinstriped jersey and carrying a “tip money” cooler.
According to Weier, the letter from MLB (read: the Cubs) cited allegations of “trademark infringement.” Weier ignored the decree after consulting with an attorney, but that didn’t sit well with the Cubs. The next day he said he was confronted by a team executive outside of Wrigley.
“Someone came up to me, very angry, and said, ‘did you not get our letter?’” Weier told NBC.
Since he was in costume at the time and since “Billy Cub” doesn’t speak, Weier said that he just stood there gesturing and shrugging. That enraged the Cubs executive even further until a Cubs fan father walked up, handed the exec his camera, and asked him to take a picture of his son.
Now, one can’t help but chuckle at that whole scene. But I’m quite sure that Weier – who says he makes up to $400 a game in tips and spends $4,000 annually on costume upkeep – doesn’t find the Cubs’ assault on Billy Cub to be a laughing matter. He takes the character very seriously.
In 2010, I attended the first Cubs Convention after the Ricketts family had taken over ownership of the team. During a fan Q&A session with Tom Ricketts and his siblings, Weier stepped up to the microphone and publicly expressed his desire for “Billy Cub” to become the Cubs’ official mascot. What followed was a non-response from the Ricketteses that got more than a little awkward before Weier finally returned to his seat.
Finally, the Rickettses have given Weier a much clearer response, although not the one he wanted. In a statement to NBC, team spokesman Julian Green said, “The Billy Cub characters are not affiliated with the Chicago Cubs. We have received complaints from fans, mistakenly believing ‘Billy Cub’ to be associated with the Cubs.”
According to NBC, Green cited complaints that two years ago, a Billy Cub character swore at a patron and used an ethnic slur, because of an inadequate tip. In another instance, a Cubs employee claimed to have witnessed a “prolonged verbal altercation” between Billy and another fan, again over the size of a tip.
“This behavior is wholly inconsistent with the enjoyable fan experience we try to create at Wrigley Field,” Green said.
Now, the Cubs do have a valid point about the “franchise infringement” and monitoring the Wrigley “fan experience,” I suppose, although I doubt they’ve received that many complaints. But I don’t think that’s what this attack on Billy Cub is really all about anyway. That’s because this past March, Cubs senior marketing director Alison Miller told the Chicago Tribune that the Cubs were investigating ways to make Wrigley more “kid-friendly.”
“We’ve done a couple things just with trying to get better research on our fans, and just being smarter about what our fans want,” Miller explained. “We’ve done a lot of focus groups in the last couple of months.”
Among the kid-friendly topics fans were asked about were batting cages and radar gun zones, kids apps for smartphones and tablets, a kids section, a new Cubs song and “interaction with a mascot.”
For a mascot-less franchise that threw up a big red flag for me. Because, while I have no problem with the Cubs doing some things to make Wrigley more “kid-friendly,” I do have a problem with a mascot being one of them. My personal take is that the Wrigley experience is already going to be changing more than enough with the inclusion of a giant Jumbotron in left field. Do the Cubs really need to change it in every way?
Having a North Side version of the Phillie Phanatic or Bernie Brewer strutting around is not something that Wrigley Field needs to make the gameday experience grander – for kids or anyone.
More wins will accomplish that just fine.
I personally have no problem with Billy Cub strolling around Clark & Addison. But if the Cubs do manage to eliminate the unofficial mascot outside their ballpark, I sincerely hope they’re not doing it just so they can bring his official cousin inside instead.
If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com. Follow him on Twitter @wischlist and read more of his CBS Chicago blog entries here.