The Yankees are known for their adherence to tradition, their classy aesthetics, buttoned-up ways and first-rate product. Yankee Stadium lacks the frills and family-friendly entertainment commonly found in other MLB ballparks. The public address announcer isn’t campy. The seventh-inning stretch doesn’t feature races on the field or anything like that. A cartoonish mascot would feel out of place.
The Yankees’ formal manner stands in contrast to the team’s latest good-luck charm, and perhaps that is why the image of the team rallying around Bronxie the Turtle, Néstor Cortes Jr.’s new pet, is so endearing. Bronxie the turtle has become the team mascot that the Yankees desperately needed. Since adopting Bronxie, the Yankees have gone 8-2, making headway in the AL Wild Card Race. Fans have embraced the little guy and whatever sort of winning karma he’s brought into the clubhouse.
But long before Bronxie, the Yankees employed a short-lived and ill-fated mascot named Dandy. The facts surrounding Dandy are a bit hazy. Even today, the Yankees seem to regard Dandy as an embarrassment to the storied franchise — if they acknowledge that he once existed at all.
The front office sees Dandy as a blemish on the Bronx Bombers’ record and for all intents and purposes, he has been written out of their history books. He doesn’t fit the Yankees’ winning legacy and narrative of perfection. The late Yankees owner George Steinbrenner even claimed to have no recollection of Dandy (a claim that is patently untrue as there are records of Steinbrenner feuding with Dandy’s designer over the color of the pinstripes on Dandy’s costume). So, who was Dandy? What’s his backstory? And why is he so maligned by his one-time franchise?
According to Rick Ford, the Ithaca College grad who donned the Dandy costume, Dandy debuted for the Yankees during the 1979 baseball season, but has gone unrecognized by the team since his abrupt disappearance in 1981. During his three-year tenure, Dandy never enjoyed the spotlight in the Bronx and made zero public appearances outside the Stadium.
Reportedly, the Yankees limited Dandy’s whereabouts in the stadium as well. Unlike Bronxie, who freely crawls the Yankees clubhouse, the Yankees only allowed Dandy to interact with fans in the upper-deck nosebleed sections of the stands. A 1998 story on baseball mascots from the New York Times was unable to find any Yankee representatives willing to acknowledge that Dandy ever existed. This begs the obvious question: if the Yankees were so ashamed of Dandy, why was he created in the first place?
In the late-1970s, Steinbrenner noticed the popularity of team mascots like Mr. Met, the Phillie Phanatic, and the San Diego Chicken. He saw the value of these mascots and thought the Yankees could increase the attendance at their games by adding a mascot. AJ Mass, the author of Yes, It’s Hot in Here: Adventures in the Weird, Woolly World of Sports Mascots, believes that Steinbrenner wanted his own mascot in the Bronx after observing the Philadelphia Phillies’ success with the Phanatic, who debuted during the 1978 Phillies season.
The Yankees approached New York designers Bonnie Erickson and Wayde Harrison, who had also created Miss Piggy and the Phanatic, to spearhead the project. According to an interview with the New York Post, Erickson wasn’t given much direction from the Yanks and the mascot design was left totally up to her imagination. The Yankees then leased the design on a three-year contract for $30,000.
And thus, Dandy was born.
Dandy was a large, pear-shaped, bird-like creature with orange hair and a walrus-style mustache akin to the one donned by then-team captain Thurman Munson. He wore a pinstriped suit and a sideways Yankees cap. Erickson said that Steinbrenner insisted that Dandy’s pinstripes should be navy, and not the royal blue Erickson had initially proposed.
Unfortunately, Dandy’s rollout was postponed and never really happened in a public way. He was never formally introduced to Yankees fans. Many fans weren’t even aware of Dandy. There are a few reasons why this was the case.
While Steinbrenner had a gung-ho attitude about creating Dandy, Dandy’s scheduled debut coincided with an incident in Seattle between the San Diego Chicken and Yankees outfielder Lou Piniella.
On July 10, 1979 — several weeks prior to Dandy’s debut — the Yankees were on the road playing the Mariners when the San Diego Chicken (who was in Seattle to promote the 1979 All-Star Game) began taunting the Yankees players and appeared to put a hex on Yankees pitcher Ron Guidry. Piniella grew annoyed and ended up throwing his mitt at the Chicken to get it to stop taunting Guidry. When the incident received some less-than-flattering press, Steinbrenner, who always had a special place in his heart for Piniella, felt that he had to publicly defend his player. “Mascots have no place in baseball,” Steinbrenner told numerous reporters.
Wanting to wait for Piniella’s incident with the San Diego Chicken to blow over, the Yankees delayed Dandy’s debut and scheduled it for later in the season. As his introduction grew closer, however, an event more tragic than Piniella’s fight with the San Diego Chicken sidelined Dandy for a longer period of time.
On August 2, 1979, the beloved Munson died in a plane crash. Because Dandy sported a similar style mustache and had the same color hair as Munson, the Yankees felt that the mascot too closely resembled Munson and thought it would be in poor taste for Dandy to make his debut shortly after Munson’s untimely death. As a result, Dandy was put on hiatus.
I was today years old when I learned the Yankees once had a mascot. Its name was Dandy and, well, it wasn't much of a dandy to look at pic.twitter.com/cRLVQ6oXeQ— Jeff (@Gerb3X) August 31, 2020
Dandy eventually returned to the Yankees, though according to reporting that’s been done in an effort to unearth Dandy’s mysterious history, Dandy was confined in the upper-deck area of Yankee Stadium. He was situated far away from cameras and most fans. Approaching an MLB mascot as an embarrassing afterthought defies the purpose of the team employing one at all. Mascots are supposed to entertain and engage with fans, but the Yankees hid Dandy from most of the ballpark.
The contract between Acme Mascots (Harrison and Erickson’s design firm) and the Yankees came to an end in 1981, after which it was not renewed. Despite the fact that they seemed ashamed of the mascot, the Yankees actually did want to renew Dandy’s contract when the lease expired. It was Erickson and Harrison, Dandy’s creators, who refused to prolong Dandy’s contract with the Yankees. They didn’t like how the team treated the cute, pear-shaped bird.
Thankfully, Bronxie’s introduction to Yankees’ fanbase was a hit—much unlike Dandy’s. Dandy’s failure, like many decisions made by the Yankees in this 2021 season, was the result of poor management and planning.