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Clown Show

Driving east on Division one morning a few weeks ago, I crossed Dearborn and spied a familiar figure on the Northwest corner. There in full Cub regalia, including a batting helmet rather than a hat, stood Ronnie (Woo Woo) Wickers, reading a newspaper, minding his own business, and attracting not so much as a honking horn or a high five from passing pedestrians. The guy could have been invisible.

Not so long ago, Ronnie would have been engaged in goofy exchanges, and he might even have offered a "Rizzo, woo! Bryant, woo!" to entertain the gaga fans, who would immediately text their friends, "You'll never guess who I just saw."

But those days are long gone. Whether fans found guys like Ronnie totally annoying or pleasingly entertaining, there was no arguing that he was part of the scene on the North Side. He usually found friendly fans to provide him with a ticket to the bleachers where he led cheers. When his decayed front teeth resulted in a wide gap in his uppers, fans took up a collection so that he could be outfitted with dentures.

Ronnie Woo's heyday was the early to mid-80s, when he crowed about Sandberg, Buckner, Davis and Sutcliffe. Like so many aspects of the game, including the final play at home plate Sunday as the White Sox bowed 5-4 in Miami, personalities like Ronnie are unwelcome in big league parks, having been replaced by so-called mascots of each team's creation. Only the Dodgers, Angels and Yankees lack a mascot today.

Andy Rozdilsky Jr., better known as Andy the Clown, was a fixture at Comiskey Park from the early 1960s until the present ownership arrived in 1981. His "Goooo youuuu Whiiiiite Soooox" could be heard throughout the ballpark - today's mascots are mimes; they never utter a sound - and every time he shook a kid's hand, his red nose lit up. He was a delight.

Despite Andy's affectionate, friendly demeanor, he wasn't cool in the eyes of Jerry and Eddie. They did their best to phase out Andy, despite the fans' wishes, and exacerbated the situation with the introduction of the obnoxious and intrusive Ribbie and Roobarb, two huge goofballs designed by the same people who brought Philadelphians the Phillie Phanatic.

I can remember sitting behind first base and having my view blocked by one or the other of the infamous duo. Fans would scream at them to move their asses. Two or even three Andy the Clowns could have fit into the costumes. By 1988, Ribbie and Roobarb were part of White Sox history.

And so was Andy. He was restricted to the upper deck beginning in 1981, and when U.S. Cellular Field was built, Andy joined Ribbie and Roobarb as part of the team's lore.

There were other real life human beings who were unique cheerleaders for their teams. Wild Bill Hagy made a career out of using his body to spell out "Orioles" atop the home dugout in Baltimore. Like Andy, when they built a new ball park, Wild Bill's days came to an end.

Max Patkin, known as the Clown Prince of Baseball, was the best-known baseball entertainer, making fans laugh for 50 years beginning in the 1940s. Performing primarily one-night stands at minor league ball parks throughout the country, Max never missed an engagement.

He "coached" first base for two or three innings with an array of crazy antics that got the fans howling while the players begrudgingly became part of the act
Many of today's fans know of Patkin through his cameo appearance in the film Bull Durham.

Ted Giannoulas, better known as the San Diego Chicken, changed peripheral entertainment in ballparks beginning in 1975. Casting spells on the visiting team and harassing opposing players were his staples, and he was definitely funny.

The Chicken went national, and few teams neglected to hire him for at least one game during the season since it was no secret that attendance would spike for Chicken Day.

Giannoulas was the trailblazer for present-day mascots as ballclubs hired design firms to create easily identifiable images such as the Pirate Parrot, the Oriole Bird, and Billy the Marlin.

The Sporting News listed Giannoulas among its Top 100 Most Powerful People in Sports in the 20th Century.

While there remain a few regular guys like the drum-beater in Cleveland where the White Sox play this week, management has held a firm grip on mascots since Giannoulas first arrived on the scene. The Andys, Ronnies, and Wild Bills did their own thing, and that lack of control isn't permitted in today's climate. Mascots follow the script, and if they waver, you can always train another Fredbird in St. Louis or Rosie Red in Cincinnati.

Today's Sox mascot Southpaw was introduced to The Cell in 2003. Most kids like him, and he does his best not to impede your view of the game. You can rent him for your "birthday party, wedding, store event, community festival, family get-together and more," according to the Sox website.

What about a bachelorette party? Would Southpaw jump out of a cake and strip? I suspect "and more" doesn't include that.

Southpaw's role on the South Side has taken on greater significance the past few seasons since the product on the field continues to baffle and frustrate the folks in the seats. A little diversion in the form of a fuzzy, silent creature at least has a chance to delight the younger set.

The Sox finally won a series over the weekend in Miami after dropping the previous four, including two-of-three in Kansas City before traveling to South Florida. They were going for a sweep on Sunday with Chris Sale again seeking his elusive 15th victory.

Along with all the changes in the game, including the aforementioned mascots, catchers no longer are permitted to block the plate without the ball. However, that's apparently what Marlins' catcher Jeff Mathis did Sunday in the top of the ninth as pinch runner Carlos Sanchez was ill-advisedly waved around third base by coach Joe McEwing with the Sox down 5-4 with two outs.

Mathis clearly was in front of the plate in order to corral left fielder Christian Yelich's one-hop throw. I don't know where else he could have stationed himself, but he still was blocking the plate without the ball which arrived in plenty of time to nail Sanchez and end the game. It took only 15 seconds for the boys in New York to review the play, which was confirmed.

The ninth inning was so typical White Sox. They collected four hits off Fernando Rodney. After Justin Morneau struck out for the second out, Adam Eaton, who reached base 10 times in 15 at-bats during the weekend series, singled to advance pinch runner Sanchez to second.

Tyler Saladino, who went 5-for-14 with three RBI against the Marlins, dropped a base hit in front of Yelich, who came up throwing just as Sanchez reached third base.

McEwing later defended his decision to send Sanchez, which is difficult to understand. Yelich won a Gold Glove in 2014. When he fields a single with a runner on second, about half the time the runner holds at third. Sanchez was the second runner this season thrown out at home by Yelich.

In addition, Yelich didn't need to make a perfect throw because Mathis had the ball well in advance of Sanchez's arrival. Meanwhile, Melky Cabrera, the Sox leading hitter with a .299 average, was waiting on deck. Cabrera also is a good contact hitter who had two previous hits on Sunday. Of course, he never got a chance. Chalk it up to a White Sox staple, yet another creative and different way to lose a ballgame.

Southpaw should be so creative.


Former Bill Veeck bar buddy Roger Wallenstein is our White Sox correspondent. He welcomes your comments.

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