02/09/2004 9:36 PM ET
Phillie Phanatic's head vanishes
By Ken Mandel / MLB.com
PHILADEPHIA -- In a baseball world obsessed with curses and superstitions, consider Philadelphia a city gripped with fear.
The Phillie Phanatic, the beloved mascot and the team's most loyal fan, has lost his head -- literally -- as it was reportedly stolen from a dressing room at the Wachovia Center last Friday.
As well as things have gone for the Phillies this offseason, and with excitement for the baseball team reaching stratospheric proportions, such an event could drain the positive vibes. At the least, it's a very bad omen.
"We have enough bad luck in Philly, we don't need the "Curse of the Headless Mascot" haunting us like the "Curse of the Bambino," said George Walmsley IV, a season-ticker holder from Glenolden, Pa., who has started an online crusade through Ebay to have the head returned.
It's a modern day Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
The Phanatic's dome vanished during the team's "Final Pieces" charity sale and auction of mementos from Veterans Stadium. Tom Burgoyne, the man in the fur, placed the head in a dressing room during a break, then realized it was gone when returning 45 minutes later. Security videotape reportedly offered no clues for police.
The dressing room was unlocked and had more than one entrance. Still, the thief must have been casing out the Phanatic, also known to be a little too trusting at times.
"The Phanatic is devastated," Burgoyne said. "He needs his head. He's always had a screw loose, and now he's got a litte more than that."
Burgoyne has a backup outfit but hopes to see the $3,000 head returned. Team spokesman Larry Shenk said the Phillies haven't determined whether a reward would be offered, since such a gesture could encourage future villianous acts.
That's where Walmsley comes in. The 27-year-old Ebay user has attempted to head off a potential resale avenue. Posting an announcement on the site, he insists that the varment can't profit, and offered a 'no frills' way to ensure its return.
"No questions asked," pleaded Walmsley. "I'm not affiliated with the Phillies ... I have a one-year old who loves the Phanatic and wants to see him back in one piece. You can't sell the head and you are going to get in trouble if you keep it. Email me to arrange the safe return of the Phanatic's head and I will keep your identity a secret! Thank you."
Others have rallied behind the message, pledging money and other goodies, all of which Walmsley will donate to Phillies Charities once the head has been returned. He's received about 75 emails, and some suggesting that he's the perpetrator -- a charge he emphatacilly denies.
The culprit is already unpopular among the superstitious Phillies faithful.
"If whoever stole the head doesn't return it, then gets caught, he's going to be hated as much as the fan in Chicago who tried to catch the foul ball," said another posting, signed M. Fitzpatrick.
The Baranaby's Bar & Grill of Havertown, Pa. and the Marple Sports Arena of Marple, Pa. have pledged $50 a piece, matching the amount offered by Walmsley.
"It's good to know that the Phanatic has so many great fans out there," said Borgoyne. "I know how much the people of Philadelphia love the Phanatic, and I hope the movement pays off."
Borgoyne also mentiond an email sent by a friend who sent a prayer to St. Anthony, the patron saint of lost items.
With that, the Phanatic has two other key things to worry about for 2004. The wheels on his ATV are being modified for the switch to grass, and he is secretly working on an improved hotdog launcher for Citizens Bank Park. Details on both were sketchy.
"It's going to be spectacular and utterly stupid," said Borgoyne.
As stupid as, say, stealing a mascot's head?
|Foul play is suspected in the disappearance of the head of the Phillie Phanatic. (AP)
"What can they possibly do with the head except store it in their basement?" said Welmsley, who attended the Final Pieces event and had his picture taken with the Phanatic. "This is a just a shame."
It was suggested that one potential use for the head could be to place it in the bed of Marlins manager Jack McKeon, a la The Godfather. All Borgoyne and Walmsley want is for it to wind up back where it belongs.
"I'm waiting desperately (for the thief to contact me)," Walmsley said. "I'm offering a painless process, and I hope someone takes me up on it. With all the stuff about the Red Sox and bad karma and curses, we don't need to take any chances."
Ken Mandel is
a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval
of Major League Baseball or its clubs.