CLEVELAND – Not every team has a mascot, and prior to 1990, there were long stretches when the Indians didn’t have any character wandering the ballpark during games. It wasn’t until 30 years ago that the team unveiled a large pink creature with a yellow nose and spots that could only be described by his creator as a “big fat furball.”
Slider was an idea that began with Indians’ executive vice president of business Dennis Lehman, who spent nearly two decades with Philadelphia -- where he watched the tremendous success of the famous Phillie Phanatic -- prior to joining the Tribe in 1988. Because the team didn’t have a mascot at the time Lehman arrived in Cleveland, he decided it was time to try something new. That’s when Slider was born.
“I was involved in the creation of the Phillie Phanatic,” Lehman said. “I got to see the San Diego Chicken, and he would prance around Jack Murphy Stadium and he was just hysterical, and I could see the players just adored him and the fans loved him. … That’s when I said, ‘It would be nice to have some entertainment.’
“So when my wife and I moved here in ’88 … that’s when the marketing VP and I cooked up this idea that it would be a good idea to have a mascot."
The team took the idea to a local design company that, after a few drafts, created the big lovable critter that still roams Progressive Field today. The Tribe did its best to build suspense of a new surprise coming to a team that hadn’t had a winning season since 1986 by keeping a large crate outside the ballpark that said it had been delivered from the Fuchsia Islands and read, “Do not open until Spring of ‘91.”
But when Slider was set to debut, it was in the middle of a doubleheader against the Yankees on July 29, 1990, and the Indians had just lost the first game, 8-5, which made it a less-than-ideal time to introduce a new furry friend.
“It was very well-perceived from a kid standpoint, but the diehard fans were like, ‘What is that?’" Indians mascot coordinator Dan Kilday said. “They wanted something that was kind of like a fictitious character that would promote the team and add entertainment at the ballpark. So, from that standpoint, it went off great. But I can remember peanuts being thrown at Slider from the upper deck.”
However, it didn’t take long for Slider to win over all Indians fans. His success led to him celebrating his 30th birthday last July, proving that Lehman’s tactic of trying to find a character that was goofy, mythical and approachable worked. But to this day, the team is often asked what animal Slider is.
“Because he kind of has that Muppet-ish, Jim Henson Sesame Street look and feel, I say that he’s in that Snuffleupagus category where he literally is his own species," Kilday said. "There's only going to be one Slider. It’s one of a kind.”
Kilday has been the Indians’ mascot coordinator since the first day Slider was introduced. He’s seen Slider go from an unrecognized mascot to one of the most well-known in the game. But that transition didn’t come without a little blood, sweat and tears. Literally.
Every famous person has that one special moment that puts them on the map. Unfortunately for Slider, his came from his infamous fall off the outfield wall during the 1995 ALCS. As Carlos Baerga laced a single to left field in Game 4, Slider tumbled off the wall in right and onto the outfield grass. He limped back behind the fence and had the paramedics evaluate him before he was taken to the hospital.
But while Slider suffered some injuries, he made national news, appearing on CNN and Hannah Storm’s injury report on ESPN.
“The outpouring of fan mail for Slider, all these letters and cards from people sending in like little dolls who were casted up, it was amazing,” Kilday said. “But the next game, we wrapped Slider’s knee up, we wrapped the nose up and Slider got an unbelievable ovation coming out.”
It may have been a painful way to gain national recognition, but that fall was the first step to getting more eyes on Slider, which eventually paved the way to the fuzzy creature’s induction in the Mascot Hall of Fame in 2008.
“It was incredible,” Kilday said. “Slider got inducted when it was all virtual at the time. Now, there's actually a physical [Hall of Fame] in Whiting, Indiana, which is amazing. … It was nice to have Slider recognized.”
From his fall to entertaining an empty ballpark due to COVID-19 in 2020, Slider has been through it all in his 30 years in Cleveland. But the thing the team is most proud of is the way he has made an impact on the community.
“It is still very gratifying to see to go when Slider goes into a school assembly or a hospital – even if it’s with a player appearance – that Slider totally steals the show,” Kilday said. “To see that popularity, grow over the years is amazing. And it still is amazing.”