While not obvious to the observer, there's a real, live human being inside of the Phillie Phanatic costume. The mascot of the Philadelphia Phillies is not actually a pot-bellied, be-snouted, furry elephant-like creature born on the Galapagos Islands who loves messing with Tommy Lasorda and wears size-20 sneakers and (sometimes) frilly women's clothing. The character is performed by Tom Burgoyne, a 48-year-old Philly area native who started as a backup Phanatic in 1988, and has been the first-string mascot since 1994.
With demanding fans who can smell phony baloney a mile away, Philly would seem a tough place for any likable mascot originate, much less the best one in the majors. But the Phanatic manages to combine slapstick antics and subtle humor in creating one of the great characters of Major League Baseball. He's kind of like the Three Stooges and the Marx Brothers rolled up into one Brother Stooge. With a snout. And a four-wheeler.
Market Street, a publication of Drexel University's LeBow College of Business, posted a terrific feature on Burgoyne, whose true identity you see in the photo above and read about in the link. One takeaway: His job as the Phanatic is not unlike that of a clown. And there's a strange — but wonderful — transitive power the costume gives him:
"People always ask me what it’s like to do this when I’m having a bad day,” says Burgoyne, dressed casually in jeans and white sneakers. “I could be having a terrible day, but as soon as that head goes on it’s not a bad day anymore. I don’t want to sound cliché, but that’s the truth."
The Phanatic head is so popular, somebody stole it in 2004 and Howard Stern tried to get it back. But it's not Burgoyne's head. He's only borrowing it. Another advantage to being a popular member of the Philliies organization: He also can just blend and be Tom Burgoyne, whose face hardly anyone equates with the Phanatic character:
“I see what our players go through, the pressure they have even off the field, being pulled in every which direction. And that’s got to be tough, because it’s a no-win situation. You can’t please everyone all the time,” he says. “So yeah, I really enjoy just being a father of three who can walk around the neighborhood whenever I want.”
It can also be fun for those who know the secret of Burgoyne’s double identity.
“My barber knows who I am, and sometimes I’ll go in for a haircut and he’ll say things to his customers like, ’Did you see what the Phanatic did last night? Wasn’t that something?’ And I’ll just sit there and smile and try to keep quiet.”
Even the greatest players come and go. Chase Utley won't play forever. Cliff Lee will hang 'em up one day. But the Phillies mascot will endure, as long as characters like Burgoyne are playing characters like the Phanatic.
Big BLS H/N: Dan McQuade on Twitter
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