Thursday, October 2, 2014

Want a White Elephant?

Have you ever wondered why Athletics baseball players wear an elephant on their sleeve?  Well, it goes back to the origins of the team.  When the Philadelphia Athletics became one of the charter members of the newly established American League in 1901, owner Benjamin Shibe took a spendthrift approach to staffing his team.  Shibe was willing to pay top dollar to National League ballplayers to join the upstart Philadelphia Athletics.

So in 1902, manager John McGraw, who moved to the National League New York Giants after the first American League Baltimore Orioles franchise folded, was disgusted by Shibe business strategy. McGraw opined that Shibe had a white elephant on his hands.  At the time, a white elephant was a metaphor for something that looked nice but was impossible to maintain.

The Philadelphia Athletics, however, embraced the jibe.  So much so, the Athletics made the White Elephant into the team's mascot.  In fact, Philadelphia Athletics Manager Connie Mack ordered that Athletics jerseys be emblazoned with a White Elephant.  

In the end, John McGraw's musings over the White Elephant A's proved quite wrong.   By 1905, the Athletics were quite profitable and prosperous, earning its way into the championship series.  To underline that point, John McGraw was given a White Elephant by the A's prior to the first game of the 1905 World Series.

New York Giants Manager John McGraw receiving a White Elephant before Game 1 of the 1905 World Series

McGraw was said to have doffed his cap and deeply bowed before the hooting crowd in the City of Brotherly Love.

The White Elephant has been part of the Athletics uniforms for much of their history, including in the A's incarnations in Philadelphia (1901-1954), Kansas City (1955-1967) and Oakland (1968-present).  In 1963, however, A's owner Charlie O. Finley changed the mascot to a mule, perhaps to appeal to Show Me State Democrats. The elephant mascot was restored as the A's symbol in 1988 and was know as Harry Elephante.  Since 1997, the elephant mascot has been called Stomper.


Alas for Oakland fans, the White Elephant is going into off-season hibernation as the A's lost their wildcard game 9-8 in 12 innings to the Kansas City Royals. 

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