Back in 1978 the San Diego Chicken was winning huge numbers of fans – which is why Atlanta owner Ted Turner tried to coax the man inside the chicken suit, Ted Giannoulas, to move east. Plus: the Chicken is now in the Baseball Hall of Fame, but why is there also a San Diego Chicken head in the Gerald Ford Presidential Library in Grand Rapids, Michigan?
Profiles in Plumage: The San Diego Chicken (Society for American Baseball Research)
Which came first, the San Diego Chicken or the San Diego egg?
June 29 is an important day in the history of sports mascots.
The San Diego Chicken re-emerged at Jack Murphy Stadium by hatching out of a giant egg.
The man portraying the Chicken, Ted Giannoulas, had been in a legal dispute with a radio station over who owned the character; he’d first worn the costume to win a radio contest, and briefly stepped away from Padres games because of the legal maneuvering.
There was a huge roar from the capacity crowd when the Chicken came out of the egg, and for decades afterward, baseball fans all over the country and beyond would recognize the mascot as a symbol of San Diego.
But there was a time when it looked like we might have all known about the Atlanta Chicken instead.
Let’s go back to 1978, the year before the “Grand Hatching.”
Atlanta owner Ted Turner made an unusual offer to San Diego management: trade me the Chicken for a backup catcher.
The Padres explained that they couldn’t trade something that wasn’t theirs, so Turner went straight to Giannoulas, offering him $50,000 to come to Atlanta.
He reportedly said “come with me, and I’ll make you bigger than Mickey Mouse.”
But Giannoulas turned him down; he was San Diego through and through.
So Turner raised his offer to $100,000 a year, plus a Chicken-themed TV show and an office next to home run king Hank Aaron.
Still, Giannoulas decided to keep the Chicken in San Diego.
It was Atlanta’s loss, as the Chicken went on to win fans all over the world of baseball, and while he never got an office next to Hank Aaron, he did get his own TV show.
I can’t be the only one who grew up watching him on “The Baseball Bunch” with Johnny Bench, can I?
The San Diego Chicken is in the Baseball Hall of Fame, and it’s at the Gerald Ford Presidential Library in Michigan.
Why? Because President Ford once met the Chicken while visiting San Diego, and a reporter following the president decided to play a prank on him.
He bought one of the heads from the Chicken costumes from Ted Giannoulas, and then walked into the middle of one of Ford’s press conferences wearing the head.
To his credit, when confronted with a giant cartoonish chicken head, Ford didn’t miss a beat.
And remember, when your show is about a chicken, talk is cheep.