Toronto Blue Jays mascots
Over the years, the Toronto Blue Jays have created three mascots. BJ Birdy was the team mascot from 1979 to 1999, replaced by Ace and Diamond, two new characters. Currently, the team is represented by Ace and, occasionally, Junior.
Inspired by the success of the Montreal Expos' mascot Youppi, the Toronto franchise was working with a media company to develop their own character. Simultaneously, theme park employee Kevin Shanahan designed a costume of a blue jay, and convinced Jays management to pay him to perform at games. While he gave the team multiple opportunities to purchase the rights to the character, they never did, maintaining a relationship with the performer that was at times uncomfortable for both. Owning the rights to the character, Shanahan was able to profit directly from a comic strip, live appearances and endorsements, until being cut suddenly in two games before the end of the 1999 season. BJ Birdy was replaced by two mascots, Ace and Diamond. In recent years, Ace has been joined by Junior.
Kevin Shanahan was an employee of Ontario Place, a theme park attraction run by the provincial government of Ontario, located on Toronto's lakeshore across from municipally-run Exhibition Place, site of Exhibition Stadium, the team's home field at the time. As a University of Toronto student, Shanahan designed and performed in a moose costume at the park, to replace the more "motley-looking thing" they already had.[Note 1] The second moose costume was uncomfortable, so he designed a more comfortable bird costume. A friend suggested to him the Blue Jays might want a mascot. Not a baseball fan, he had never seen a live game. He commented "it didn't take me long to see why a mascot was needed. The game needs a distraction. Otherwise your mind wanders." Shanahan was a part-time science student, before he later dropped out. Previously he had attended Michael Power High school, where he drew comics for the school newspaper.
In 1985, the BJ Birdy character was described as "lovable, irascible, curious, impudent, mischievous, and often the victim of his own impulsiveness." Much of the routines were improvised. "B.J. is a reaction character. He's a fan. He wants to know what's going on. He'll duck behind a dugout and then pop up again. He does what a lot of fans would do if they weren't so reserved." The costume had "perfect vision", and was said to be quite agile.
During the 1981 Major League Baseball strike, 22-year-old Shanahan told the Star that he would lose $7000 if the whole season was cancelled.[Note 3] He suggested he might return to Ontario Place, but worried the strike might permanently kill the character. During the strike, he rebuilt his Basil Beaver and Mickey Moose costume heads for Ontario Place, and received a contract to build six more animals in the autumn. By the end of the strike, he estimated a loss of $3600.
The character and its actor had a continuously strained relationship with the team and some fans. When receiving complaints from the fans or media on his behavior at a game, the team front office would apparently reply "B.J. Who?" In 1985, he commented: "I'm always walking a fine wire. I found out early that Blue Jays won't back me up, that I'm on my own. So I'm on a balancing act."
On April 1, 1985, the first BJ Birdy comic ran in the Toronto Star, created by Shanahan. In a preview article, he commented on the character: "I see him as an underbird but he'll definitely be his own bird. He'll get the odd quip in his favor, he'll second-guess like fans do but, most of the time, everything will fall back on him. Of course, he might develop into something totally different. I have ideas but that isn't to say they and B.J. won't change. Situations that B.J. got into at the stadium were limited but this way the sky's the limit. He can fall off stadiums, go through walls, do silly, little things. There's total freedom." The character often criticized Jays management. The Globe noted that fans "had grown abusive. Broadcasters question the reason for his existence. The team's front office offers only middling support." The newspaper noted a negative bent to the comic, with many strips taking shots at those groups. When Paul Beeston was asked about his opinion on a strip centering on him, vice president he commented "What comic strip? I didn't know he had one." In another strip, BJ Birdy's mother is about to hit mascot-hating broadcaster Tony Kubek on the head. He commented that the strip was based on real situations, "when I distort something, I only tone it down."
On May 22, 1993, BJ Birdy gained wider notoriety when he was ejected from a Blue Jays game against the Minnesota Twins for trying to influence an umpire's call on a caught line drive. In the bottom of the first inning, umpire Jim McKean ruled that Twins infielder David McCarty didn't catch a line drive hit by Roberto Alomar, ruling the play a hit. Although the ruling favoured his team, BJ Birdy was caught up in the excitement of the play and attempted to get the crowd to make the "hit" ruling just as McKean was actually making the ruling. McKean still took exception to the antic, ejecting BJ Birdy from the game, which the Jays still won 7-0.
Over the character's final seasons, Shanahan suggested that Jays management turned down multiple appearance requests for BJ Birdy. The Raptor, mascot of the Toronto Raptors basketball team, was meanwhile gaining acclaim for his acrobatic routines. The Jays noted the admiration for the NBA team's "total entertainment package". The team had its second lowest opening day attendance in 1999, desperately trying to attract audiences. The Star commented that the team's desperation was evident, suggesting that "the nadir probably reached when a van circled the field pulling a flatbed which bore B.J. Birdy, a massive plastic rodent, two dancing bears and a man firing T-shirts into the stands with a bazooka." Shanahan retained ownership of the character, despite initial attempts to sell the rights and costume to the club.
Shanahan was called into a meeting with the senior vice-president of marketing for the Toronto Blue Jays, Terry Zuk; the two apparently had not met before. He was told he was being replaced by two new mascots. Shanahan again offered to sell the costume and copyrights, but the club declined. The team suggested, if it were too hard to hold onto the costume, the Jays Care Foundation would gladly accept a donation; he flatly refused. It was also suggested Shanahan might be interested in training the new performers. Seeking legal advice, he informed the club the new mascots could not debut before his contract expired on December 31, well after the season's end. In response, the club called him at his home in Mississauga, telling him not to appear at the final two regular season home games; he would quip to the media that they were the first "two paid days off after 20 years."
In early December, the story about BJ Birdy's two replacements made the news. Shanahan commented that "there's not a great deal of pain in this. I had a good run. But it bothers me that the Jays talked about it before my contract was up. They gave their word they'd wait until December 31." General Manager Gord Ash contested that "there was no intent to reveal that. We were confronted with the story, it was out from another source and there was no sense having a bunker mentality and denying it."
Ace and Diamond
Quickly, some in the sports media asked "Double the pleasure? Or, double the pain?" News of a naming contest led to suggestions like Swing and A Miss, More and Annoying, and Bird and Brain. For their part, the Globe issued an editorial calling the situation "a baseball civics lesson," suggesting that no one asked the public, "and when you don't ask citizens of a democracy if they want an icon to be changed you must expect them to rise up in revolution... or at least cry out: Give us back our bird."
As of early December 1999, four people expressed interest in applying, three of them from the United States. By the first round of auditions on January 10, 2000, the club had received about 70 applications.
The characters themselves were conceived and designed by Kelly Giannopoulos and Diane Semark. "We looked for the most interesting personality traits and then actually gave the mascots a past, a sort of legend that went with their story." The duo were designed with distinct plummage and faces, to reflect their gender. Sugar's Costume Studio built the outfits based on their designs. Their personality traits were modelled after Jim Carrey and Goldie Hawn, because "both of them have a wild and zany side."[Note 4] Their original names were Slider and Curveball. Unveiled in February 2000, the names Ace and Diamond were announced the next month. Ace's name is baseball slang for a team's top starting pitcher (the "ace" of the staff, such as former Blue Jays pitcher Roy Halladay).
The costumes were built by Sugar's Mascot Costumes in Toronto. An early article suggested they would wear varied clothes; "tuxedos for formal events and surgical garb for hospital visits." The new costumes were lightweight and featured athletic pants to allow for stunts.
Brennan Anderson played Ace for five years, bringing his competitive gymnastics and media background. He later became a sales manager at Sugar's. Then-Ryerson University student Angelina Milanovic was a performer for Diamond.
Ace became the team's sole mascot in 2004, after Diamond was removed by the Blue Jays before the season opened. Ace wears the number zero.
A second blue jay mascot, named Junior, is present on "Junior Jays days", usually Saturdays home games, when children are invited to run the bases after the games. Junior's number is 1/2 (half).
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Ace.|
- The new moose cost $700 to make, whereas the Jay cost $250 to $300, "because this time I knew what I was doing." (Patton, "Big Jay flaps for win".)
- The Expos' final season in Montreal was 2004. The team moved to Washington, DC, and the rights to Youppi! were sold to the Montreal Canadiens). (Rubin, Mike (September 1996). "The Round and the Fury". SPIN (Palm Coast FL: Camouflage Associates): 142. Retrieved 14 January 2012.)
- This was listed as being $110 a home game, plus licensing fees and outside appearances.
- Ironically, in a 1996 article, the Raptors performer listed Carrey and Charlie Chaplin as his inspirations.
- Patton, Paul (13 September 1979). "Big Jay flaps for win". The Globe and Mail (Toronto ON). p. 45.
- Littler, William (18 April 1998). "A symphony of sports". The Toronto Star (Toronto ON). p. M1, M16.
- Orwen, Patricia (12 June 1981). "Blue Jays' mascot says strike is for the birds". The Toronto Star (The Toronto Star). p. A01.
- Gray, James (28 June 1981). "The Jays aren't losing too badly--for a change". The Toronto Star (Toronto ON). p. C01.
- Parrish, Wayne (1 August 1981). "Old club waiting for gang". The Toronto Star (Toronto ON). p. D01.
- York, Marty (19 October 1985). "Carlton's like a Fisk out of water". The Globe and Mail (Toronto ON). p. C06.
- Perkins, Dave (5 November 1988). "How much is a Jays game worth?". The Toronto Star (Toronto ON). p. B4.
- Brunt, Stephen (28 June 1985). "Mascot in flap". The Globe and Mail (Toronto ON). p. E12.
- Graham, Bryan Armen (25 April 2013). "Ripped Tongues, Ejected Birds and Assassin Penguins: 13 Surprising Mascot Facts". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved 27 June 2013.
- Jaffe, Chris (22 May 2013). "Wednesday, May 22, 2013 20th anniversary: Blue Jays mascot ejected". The Hardball Times. Retrieved 27 June 2013.
- Christie, James (8 December 1999). "By the bye, Birdy, train replacements". The Globe and Mail (Toronto ON). p. S01.
- Ryan, Allan (20 January 1996). "Raptor mascot is dino might". The Toronto Star (Toronto ON). p. F01, F07.
- Ormsby, Mary (8 December 1999). "Bye-bye Birdy: Jays kick mascot out of nest". Toronto ON (Toronto ON). p. B8.
- Coyle, Jim (13 April 1999). "A whole new ball game, Jays no longer hot ticket". The Toronto Star (Toronto ON). p. A01, A16.
- Woolsey, Garth (9 December 1999). "'Twas the night before Christmas, à la Ken". The Toronto Star (Toronto ON). p. D6.
- Woolsey, Garth (13 December 1999). "Domi-McCarthy: more fightin' words". The Toronto Star (Toronto ON). p. C2.
- Addis, Richard (8 December 1999). "Watch the Birdy". The Toronto Star (Toronto ON). p. A20.
- Baker, Baker (9 December 1999). "Jays going for 'wild and zany' mascots". The Toronto Star (Toronto ON). p. D6.
- Baker, Geoff (11 January 2000). "Jays looking for a couple of new birds". The Toronto Star (Toronto ON).
- "History Highlights: 2000-2009". Toronto Blue Jays. Toronto ON: Rogers Media. Retrieved 14 January 2012.
- Clayton, Liz (12 May 2005). "Mascot designers' products 'labour of love'". BusinessEdge (Calgary AB). Retrieved 13 January 2012.
- Clayton, Liz (12 May 2005). "Talent inside mascot suit and planning are crucial to success". BusinessEdge (Calgary AB). Retrieved 13 January 2012.
- Power Ranking all of the MLB Mascots, BleacherReport.com, retrieved 31 January 2012
- Appearance in Wendy's Great Canadian Hot Dog, 1985 commercial, on YouTube