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Pirates Will a fine assuage Simon's critics?

Friday, July 11, 2003

By Steve Levin, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

In sausage racing, as in baseball and life, there are few guarantees.

Pittsburgh Pirates first baseman Randall Simon takes a swat at the racing Italian sausage (top), a 19-year-old woman named Mandy Block, who recounted the incident yesterday (middle photo) for the Milwaukee Journal. Simon had to walk the media gantlet yesterday morning, as he appeared in court to pay a fine for disorderly conduct. (Top photo: Fox Sports Net via the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and AP. Middle photo: Dale Guldan, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel via AP. Bottom photo: Darren Hauck, Associated Press)
Click photos for larger image.

A 6-foot-tall Italian sausage character and 240-pound Pittsburgh Pirate Randall Simon found that out Wednesday night during a game at Milwaukee's Miller Park.

Simon was cited yesterday for disorderly conduct, fined $432 and mercilessly blistered on TV, sports radio talk shows and the Internet for bopping the toque-wearing sausage on the back of its head with a bat, causing it to tumble to the ground and trip a second racer, an oversized hot dog.

The sausage, portrayed by an 19-year-old South Milwaukee woman, suffered skinned knees and the ignominy of finishing last in a race she was leading at the time of the incident in front of the Pirates' dugout.

A sports law expert called the incident "unprecedented," and said the sausage might have grounds for a future lawsuit for "intentional infliction of emotional distress."

Both Pirates and Milwaukee Brewers officials were mortified by what happened after the sixth inning of an otherwise desultory 12-inning game between two of Major League Baseball's bottom feeders -- won, incidentally, 2-1 by Milwaukee.

Official statements were issued, apologies professed and, as quickly as possible, management tried to keep the grease from "Sausagegate" from spreading.

Miller Park's sausage races are similar to PNC Park's pierogi races in that both employ people wearing large, heavy, awkward costumes to run around as part of the "in-game entertainment" that most professional baseball teams employ to prop up fans' interest between innings.

Simon said he was trying to help the Italian sausage win the race with a "tap." Less charitable observers characterized the swing in question as his first hit of July, a month in which he has gone 0-for-6 at the plate.

"The question is, does the fact that you're trying to make the game more entertaining for the fans give someone the right to act as a jerk?" asked Bob Jarvis, a professor of sports law at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., who authored a 2001 study on baseball mascots. "Clearly, the answer is 'no.'

"I suppose if there was ever to be a jury trial, one of the arguments would be that you have to consider that he's a professional athlete. If he really intended to injure her, he would have swung much harder."

Wednesday night's encounter in Milwaukee turned the heat up on team mascots, especially protein-laden, fatty ones like Italian sausages, hot dogs, Polish sausages and bratwurst. But instead of allowing the mascots to talk about their feelings, handlers secluded them from the news media.

Of the four, only the bratwurst was quoted in the media. The 16-year-old playing that character said the Italian sausage was supposed to win the race, but after the fall, he decided to grab the glory instead.

"Somebody had to, I guess," the bratwurst told The Associated Press.

The Milwaukee races are sponsored by the Brewers and Klement Sausage Co., a 47-year-old local leader in sausage products.

The four Mrs. T's Pierogies who race at PNC Park were placed under a gag order by Pirates officials.

"They are characters," sniffed a team spokeswoman, "and while we appreciate the invitation [for an interview], no."

Oliver Onion, Jalapeno Hanna, Cheese Chester and Sauerkraut Saul could not be reached for comment.

A spokesman for Ateeco, the Shenandoah, Schuylkill County, company that produces Mrs. T's frozen pierogies and helps sponsor the PNC pierogi races, referred all questions to the Pirates.

He also declined to make Pierogy Man, the company's mascot, available for questions.

"We never like to say that there's someone inside the character," said the spokesman, Wayne Holben. "It's just our feeling that most costume characters don't talk."

Leslie Bonci, director of the sports nutrition program at the UPMC Center for Sports Medicine, said she had never seen a 6-foot-tall Italian sausage and was glad of it because "the whole idea is just so incredibly scary."

She advised mascots to stay away from sausage, which she said is basically a little bit of protein and a lot of fat. Pierogies are healthier because of their carbohydrate content.

"It's carbohydrates that drive the muscles to run," she said. "Pierogies can round the bases faster whether or not they're being chased by an irate player."

Mascot abuse is old hand for the Pitt Panther, the mascot of the University of Pittsburgh. John Ashcroft, a 21-year-old senior from Lancaster, is playing the part of the mascot for a fourth consecutive year.

He said that often when he's in a crowd at a game he gets pummeled, pinched and punched.

"They think you're not real and attack you and don't think you feel anything," he said. "My advice to that sausage is to stay away from that batter."

Left unanswered is the question of whether the sausages will follow through on a scheduled Aug. 15-17 trip to Pittsburgh for the Brewers' three-game series with the Pirates. The pierogies are slated for a return visit to Milwaukee on Aug. 22-24.

"We will certainly revisit that," said the Pirates spokeswoman. "We really haven't had the opportunity to talk about that."

Steve Levin can be reached at slevin@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1919.

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