Late last night - or earlier today, if you’re one of those who works the morning shift - ex-Oriole Eric Byrnes offered an interesting opinion while recapping the highlights of Wednesday’s games on MLB Network’s “Quick Pitch.”
“The cartoon bird,” Byrnes said, referring to the logo that adorns the O’s new retro-style caps, “I think he needs a name.”
Byrnes was an Oriole for only 52 games in 2005, a season which also saw him patrol the outfield for the A’s and Rockies, who swapped him to the O’s for Larry Bigbie on July 30 of that year. Byrnes was non-tendered after hitting .192 with three homers and 11 RBIs, signed over the following winter with the Diamondbacks and resuscitated his career in the desert, slugging 47 homers over the next two seasons and earning an ill-advised three-year, $30 million contract. By the time his career ended with the Mariners in 2010, the D-Backs were still paying the bulk of his deal and Byrnes had hit only 14 more homers before retiring and embarking on his new role as a TV analyst, where his frenetic style and wacky personality play extremely well. Hey, this was a guy that skateboarded to and from Camden Yards and was nicknamed “Crash Test Dummy.”
But back to the name-the-bird conundrum. While in Baltimore, Byrnes would have donned the ornithologically correct Oriole on his cap. But he was likely exposed to the cartoon bird on the countless between-inning or pregame historical highlight packages that were shown on the center field scoreboard. Maybe that’s where his affinity for the nameless cartoon bird was born, or maybe he’s just a student of baseball tradition who realizes that the smiling character has a strong connection to the franchise’s most memorable seasons.
To my knowledge, the cartoon bird - or even The Oriole Bird, the team’s official feathered mascot, hatched to much fanfare on opening day, April 6, 1979, when Earl Weaver won his 1,000th game as O’s manager - have never had official names. Nor did the blink-and-you’d-miss him Mr. Oriole, who was the team’s feathered friend for a brief time in its 1950s infancy (and looked a lot like Scuffy the Duck, the mascot of the Hagerstown Suns when they were an Orioles minor league affiliate). The current walking, whistling, autograph signing, dugout dancing, Wild Bill Hagy cheerleading mascot will answer to many names, however - Mr. Bird, Bird, Birdie, etc. Not being one to tamper with longstanding Baltimore history (and that was, in part, the focus of the senior thesis written in Dr. Gary Browne’s research class that helped earn me a history degree from UMBC), I’m not sure that he needs one. Yes, The Bird is a male - anyone who’s enjoyed his antics when his mom visits for Mother’s Day knows that.
But a quick look at the other denizens of Major League Baseball Mascot Land shows that The Bird and his cartoon cousin are certainly in the minority when it comes to official monikers. Only a select few have no first name - Seattle’s Mariner Moose, The Philly Fanatic up in the cradle of democracy, Rangers Captain (a palomino) in Texas, the Pirate Parrot in Pittsburgh and the Padres’ Swinging Friar are the notable exceptions. For the purposes of this post, I’m not including the formally named Mr. Met in New York or Mr. Redlegs in Cincinnati on the no-first name list.
When it comes to other winged mascots, there’s Fredbird the Redbird in St. Louis (that Rally Squirrel doesn’t really count in the arched city - yet); Screech, the eagle who roosts at Nationals Park; and Ace, a blue jay residing in Rogers Centre (along with younger brother Junior). We can’t really be sure what critters like Gapper in Cincy, Raymond in Tampa Bay, Slider in Cleveland and Southpaw at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago are - they may have bird-like tendencies under all that, er, colorful fuzz. But we know Wally in Boston is a Green Monster (did you know that the Red Sox also have two secondary mascots, Righty and Lefty, who are red socks?), Dinger is a dinosaur in Denver, Oakland’s Stomper is an elephant, Kansas City’s Sluggerrr (yes, three Rs) is a lion, the Tigers’ Paws is a lion and the Giants’ Lou Seal is a seal. Homer the Brave (sound like a line to, say, a national anthem near and dear to your heart?) looks a lot like Mr. Met in an Atlanta uniform to me, and makes me long for the days of the politically incorrect Chief Nock-A-Homa, who dated to the team’s tenure as the Milwaukee Braves.
But the cartoon bird is just the cartoon bird, and The Oriole Bird is only distinguished from the cap mascot by some capital letters and the ability to walk. So I’ll put the question to you: Do the cartoon bird or The Oriole Bird need names? Or are you content to have them be worn/appear unnamed?