When we last left our friend Ted Giannoulas (aka The San Diego Chicken), he was on top of the world because for one night he was the highest paid athlete on the globe.
The future is looking pretty bright for our flexible, tri-colored friend. If you are wondering what else there could possibly be for a man in a chicken suit to accomplish…well then grab yourself a beverage and take a seat for part two.
HOVG: In 2001, you were listed as one of the “100 Most Powerful People in Sports for the 20th Century” by The Sporting News. When you read the list of those other 100 people…did you ever think that you would see your name next to Babe Ruth, Michael Jordan and Muhammad Ali, without ever actually competing in any major sport?
CHICKEN: (Laughs) No, of course not. When The Sporting News released that list, it was mind-blowing, but I could also see what they were doing with that list. Everyone on the list had an impact…not just on the sport itself, but also on their respective cities. They made a difference and that was the key to being on that list. Wayne Gretzky was number 99 and I was number 100! It was very obvious that they put a lot of thought into that list. The San Diego Chicken revolutionized sports marketing in its own unique way. He impacted merchandising, having a team ambassador, a face, even an outlet for children. Suddenly, mascots were not confined to cereal boxes. It was like bringing a cartoon character to life. And what I did was unique. My goal was to make it a comedic adventure. The Padres organization and the fans loved it. Every year, the team sent out surveys to season ticket holders and 11% of them said that they loved the games because of the Chicken. That was their biggest draw? You know? That seemed pretty significant.
HOVG: You eventually got so big that you had your own TV show…“The Baseball Bunch”. You were so popular they gave you a TV show with Johnny Bench and Tommy Lasorda! Your job was to get under Johnny Bench’s skin for the amusement of children…that’s most people’s dream job.
CHICKEN: Here is what you don’t know…they shot the pilot without me. When the producers looked at the show, they said “This show is way too dry”. One of the producers called me up and said that they wanted to re-shoot the pilot with me. When I got there, they handed me a script and said “Just go ahead and improvise yourself in there wherever it feels natural.” I did my best and tried to fit myself in there. After it was done, they said it was a winner. The show ran for five years. After that first episode, they started actually writing me into the script, it wasn’t all improvised. We also won three Emmy awards for the show. People would tune into a show to watch me terrorize Johnny. (Laughs) Oh man, and we had all the big guest stars…Frank Robinson, Ted Williams, Rollie Fingers, Ozzie Smith, Mike Schmidt, Gary Carter rest his soul, Andre Dawson and Cal Ripken. I could go on and on. The only person who ever refused to come on the show was Reggie Jackson. He wanted too much money and the producers just couldn’t afford him.
HOVG: Was there anyone who came on the show that you were in awe of, or anyone who you were especially excited to meet?
CHICKEN: I really enjoyed Ozzie Smith. Sparky Anderson was just a jewel. Working with Johnny Bench all of the time was extremely special. A tremendous thrill for me, and he was so great with the kids. Almost every Friday, Johnny would take everyone to dinner. It was really cool. To specifically answer your question, someone who I was in awe of…I mean how could you not be in awe of Ted Williams? This was a man who did NOT do TV appearances. Get this, he was known to refuse autographs, but on the set he was great! I got his autograph on a baseball. To be in the presence of the walking God of hitting.
HOVG: It’s really cool that you got to meet Ted Williams.
CHICKEN: Even Lou Pinella did an episode with us. And Lou at the time, he was not a fan of mine. I know that for a fact. But I gotta tell ya…he was real cordial and a true gentleman.
HOVG: What about Lasorda?
CHICKEN: You know, we never saw him because shot all of his stuff at a studio in Los Angeles. He played the “Dugout Wizard”. So we never saw him on the set at all. We shot all of our stuff in Arizona.
HOVG: Okay, so you have been on an Emmy Award-winning TV show. You were inducted into the very first Mascot Hall of Fame class. Named one of the 100 Most Powerful People in sports of the 20th Century. You’re the first celebrity inductee into The Hall of Very Good…what other awards do you have your sights set on?
CHICKEN: Believe it or not, I don’t. I’m honored that my costume is stuffed, mounted and on display at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. It was the top item on display when it went on tour for seven years around the country. I believe the display was called “America is Baseball”. It was a travelling museum of artifacts that just went city to city. To answer your question, the only award I care about, is listening to people in the grandstands laughing at my goofy jokes and gags on the field. The currency of any comic is laughter. THAT is what matters. In fact, if you came to my house you would not see a single award or accolade displayed around my house. I am not about making my house a shrine to myself, you know? I enjoy what I do, it’s a lot of fun and I take pride in it, but I don’t care to wear my ego on my sleeve.
HOVG: I really appreciate that you do all of this for the fans, the people who made you what you are. Too often in our culture today, that is just not the case.
HOVG: I like to hear that. Ted, let me change the subject and ask you about one of our other inductees this year that I think you know. We also inducted Luis Tiant this year.
CHICKEN: EL TIANTE!!!
HOVG: So you know him. Do you have any stories? Or anything we can tell him for you?
CHICKEN: You tell Luis, he paid me one of the finest compliments I have ever received in my career. I was performing at a basketball game at Pan American University, down in Brownsville, Texas. Before the game, I’m walking around in my street clothes, and who do I see walking into the arena? With his entire family! El Tiante himself! I walked up to him and said “Luis, what the heck are you doing here?” In all sincerity he looked at me and said, “Ted, we came here to see you tonight.” Holy Cow. He was staying a ways away, but he and his family drove all the way to this game just to see my show. I was flabbergasted. I had a similar thing happen once with Rod Carew and his daughter. He came to see me in a minor league ball game. When people show up like that…it’s the ultimate compliment. There is none higher as a performer. But El Tiante is just such a loveable guy. And I was such a big fan of his as a kid growing up when he was the ace of the Cleveland Indians.
HOVG: Did you ever consider giving The Chicken a mustache in honor of Luis?
CHICKEN: No, I didn’t think about that at the time. I’ve done moustaches for certain gags and routines, absolutely. My favorite was the Groucho Marx. I do a lot of character dress-ups with the Chicken.
HOVG: I have one more question for you and then we will do the five questions I ask all of my interviews. You have already been so gracious of your time and I don’t want to abuse the gift.
CHICKEN: Oh, of course not.
HOVG: Now, I am not trying to force you out the door or anything…but when the time comes for you to retire, are you going pass down the chicken suit or will The Chicken sort of “Field of Dreams” it into a corn field?
CHICKEN: (Laughs) It’s a tough decision…one that I have wrestled with. There is a part of me that wants to walk off into the sunset like Babe Ruth, with the number 3 on my back…never to be seen again. Then there’s the other part of me that thinks the tradition can continue. I am of the belief, that now, The Chicken can be here to stay. It can stay forever, like Mickey Mouse. Who knows what’s out there? Who could step in? Nobody can play forever. Because The Chicken is a character…he can live forever. I have been to all fifty states, eight countries around the world, people are so familiar with it. The videos live on and the continuing growth of technology means that the Chicken is here to stay. Who knows, maybe his greatest days still lie ahead.
HOVG: It would make a great reality show, “Who Wants to be The San Diego Chicken?” I think it would be terrific.
CHICKEN: (Laughs) And then I could be Donald Trump and fire people in chicken suits.
HOVG: To be fired by a man in a chicken suit, while you are also wearing a chicken suit, has to be the pinnacle of one’s art and craft.
CHICKEN: Maybe not fired…but Friared?
HOVG: There you go (Laughs). Ted, this has been really great. I really appreciate your time, but I have five quick questions for you.
CHICKEN: Sounds good.
HOVG: If you could only eat one food item for the rest of your life, what would it be?
CHICKEN: PIZZA! Are you kidding? I live on pizza. You mean there is other food? You can not think about pizza without having a smile on your face.
HOVG: You know Ted, pizza is one of the only foods you can use as currency. Someone helps you move and you pay them in…?
CHICKEN: There you go. Pizza! But that is a good point Lou, I am going to use that. Pizza can be used as currency.
HOVG: Second question. If you could meet one person for dinner, living or dead, who would it be?
CHICKEN: Hmm…Charlie Chaplin. If I could get a second person, Peter Sellers. And if I was greedy and got a third, Jackie Gleeson.
HOVG: Those would all be fascinating dinner guests.
CHICKEN: I would love to be at that sit down and just hear those three men talk with each other. Can I add a fourth?
HOVG: This is all make believe, so you can do as you please.
CHICKEN: I can’t believe I forgot this one…Groucho Marx. He made me laugh so hard my sides hurt.
HOVG: I think it’s interesting that you picked four actors who I would classify as physical comedians. Or, more specifically, guys who were willing to take a little pain for a few laughs.
CHICKEN: To me, they are the Mount Rushmore of Comedy.
HOVG: Number three. What is your least favorite nickname that people have for you?
CHICKEN: I never really had a nickname attached to me as a kid. I have one that I loved because I played hockey. They used to call me “Rogie”, after Rogie Vachon who was a very well-known goaltender. I liked it because we were both fairly small in stature.
HOVG: Okay, well that will happen. It’s probably a good thing. The fourth question I have for you is what is your favorite scary movie? Now before you answer, I need to make you aware that it does not have to be a horror movie. It was recently brought to my attention that something like “The Manchurian Candidate” is a scary movie. Recently, I talked to Dwier Brown from “Field of Dreams” and he said that “Wall-E” is his favorite scary movie. So it can be something that scares you without it being classified as a horror movie.
CHICKEN: That is a really interesting question. The “Manchurian Candidate” is hard to overlook now that you put it in that context. When you format it like that, put me down for “Manchurian Candidate”. You cannot beat that one. Something like that…impacts everyone. Which is terribly scary.
HOVG: Last one. Since you were in one of these, you can pick your own and no one will hold it against you…but what is your favorite television show or program?
CHICKEN: I’ve got to say, I really enjoy “The Office”. When I was a kid, my favorite TV show in Canada was based out of Cleveland, Ohio! It was a late night show that came on after the news called “Ghoulardi”. He was a qausi-beatnick that would dress up, show horror movies and then make fun of them. In Cleveland, he was a folk hero. Growing up in the 70’s I also loved “Laugh In”, Johnny Carson, and the first season of SNL. And actually if I have to pick just one, it would be the original “Saturday Night Live”.
HOVG: Shawn and I both bond over our love for SNL, so I think we both can appreciate that. My wife and I have the first two seasons on DVD, so you are not alone.
CHICKEN: So you guys know what I am talking about! That was so cutting edge, just unheard of for the time. I remember the worst thing would be to miss SNL and then have to hear about the sketches on Monday from your friends.
The Hall of Very Good™ Class of 2014 is presented by Out of the Park Developments, the creators of the wildly popular baseball simulation game Out of the Park Baseball. Out of the Park Developments has made a generous donation to The Hall.