Dickson: When mascots were human and superstition rode the bench

From Paul Dickson at The National Pastime Museum on June 1, 2015:

In 1880, the French comic opera La Mascotte debuted in Paris. It told the story of a farm girl who brought good luck to those closely associated with her—that is, provided she remained a virgin. When an English version of La Mascotte came to New York City in 1881, the name of the opera became The Mascot. Suddenly the term and the concept was everywhere and applied widely but especially to athletic teams.

In football, early mascots tended to be live animals—along the lines of the Army mule, the Navy ram, and the Yale bulldog—but in big league baseball the mascots were invariably human and either young boys or men of small stature. It was not uncommon for teams to use midgets, dwarves, or hunchbacks as mascots. In Baseball: The Golden Age, Harold Seymour explained that “Lefthanders, hunchbacks and cross-eyed people were all considered (lucky). . . . Touching a hunchback was popularly believed to bring good luck. . . .”

By today’s standards all of this seems, at best, barbaric but in many cases—though certainly not all—these individuals were given special treatment by the teams that employed them. Many were under contract, given World Series shares, and were honored participants in VIP functions, at least when their teams were winning.

Read the full article here: http://www.thenationalpastimemuseum.com/article/when-mascots-were-human-and-superstition-rode-bench

Originally published: June 1, 2015. Last Updated: June 1, 2015.