It’s Root, Root, Root For The … Sausage?

In the early 1990s, the Milwaukee Brewers’ Racing Sausages were cartoon characters that raced in a video on the Jumbotron.

Like other fans, graphic designer Michael Dillon would cheer for his favorite sausage in the animated race. But that wasn’t enough for him. So he pitched an idea to a Brewers executive: having the sausages run into the park.

“I’ll make them; I’ll run in them; you won’t have to do anything,” Dillon told the executive.

The Brewers gave him the go-ahead. Armed with foam core and his design expertise, he created the first three costumes based on the cartoon. On June 27, 1993, he put on his homemade bratwurst costume and lined up alongside his competitors — the Polish and Italian sausages.

“Absolutely no one knew that this was gonna happen, except possibly some groundspeople,” Dillon recalls. “The Brewers themselves were out on the field. The umpire didn’t know. They started that sausage race on the Jumbotron and then the cartoon stopped and went blank. And the gate swung open and the crowd went insane.”

The special event became a regular part of Milwaukee home games a year later, and similar races have become a staple of games around the country since. Now, nearly two-thirds of Major League Baseball teams have their own racing mascots, like caricatures of U.S. presidents in D.C., a tool race in Atlanta and the Great Pittsburgh Pierogy Race. In most mascot races, a group of costumed people lumber around a baseball field seeing who can remain upright long enough to win.

They’re a silly distraction and for some fans, like Diana Cook, they might as well not be there.

“Given that I haven’t really noticed that there are mascot races, I guess to me, I just don’t place much value on it,” says Cook. But many others do place value on these races.

Many sausage spinoffs originated in Milwaukee, as well.

“For major league, we also do the Kansas City Royal hot dogs. The Cleveland Indians also has hot dogs,” says Mary Ribecky, a designer at the Olympus Group, which designs costumes for teams around the country. She has worked on the Racing Sausages as well as the Pierogy Race.

“But when you get into the minor leagues, that’s where [they have] all kinds of crazy things [like] racing jalepeño peppers. We did a racing hot wing, blue cheese and a celery stick. There’s just so many of them, it’s a lot of fun.”

For designer Dillon, these other races just don’t measure up.

“They got the running pierogies, which is like, running dumplings. I mean, really? The running presidential heads look ridiculous,” he says. “I don’t know if they still have the one where there’s a tooth and a toothbrush and toothpaste running. You know, it’s just not fun. I’m not going to root for a tooth.”

This from a guy who cheers on a bratwurst wearing lederhosen.

In the 25 years since the racing sausages became a staple of Brewers home games, the mascot race has become a tradition for baseball fans everywhere. And as fans cheer on Toothy in the Comfort Dental Tooth Trot, Dillon can take pride in knowing he is partly to blame for this iconic piece of baseball Americana.

Copyright 2019 WUWM 89.7 FM – Milwaukee’s NPR. To see more, visit WUWM 89.7 FM – Milwaukee’s NPR.