SEATTLE -- They’re called the Mariners, but their mascot is a … moose?
Indeed, Seattle has one of the more unusual mascots in the Majors. But the Mariner Moose is among the most beloved by fans. So, perhaps fittingly, its backstory is distinct and had significant fan involvement.
The year was 1990, and the Mariners were in search of a more substantive mascot that would enhance the club’s brand and increase fan engagement. Jeff Smulyan had just bought the team from George Argyros, and his staff was looking at various ways to be more aggressive promotionally. A mascot was looked at as an opportunity.
So they opened the floor up to a contest for kids 14 and under in the Northwest to submit their ideas. More than 2,500 entries later, the club selected the idea presented by Ammon Spiller, a fifth grader from Central Elementary School in Ferndale, Wash.
"I chose the Moose because they are funny, neat and friendly,” Spiller wrote at the time. “The Moose would show that the Mariners enjoy playing and that they still have a few tricks up their sleeves. It shows they're having fun no matter what the situation."
Other than the alliteration, there was no major connection between the Moose and the Mariners, the Pacific Northwest and the rest of the fanbase. But it somehow stuck, and it is now among the more recognizable mascots in sports.
The Moose’s popularity took off parallel to the Mariners' mid-1990s ascent, but it wasn’t always pretty. Rollerblading and riding an ATV regularly have their risks, and the Moose unofficially hit the injured list for the first time in 1995, when Brett Rhinehardt, who then portrayed the Moose, went “water-skiing” in the Kingdome outfield during Game 4 of that year’s historic American League Division Series. Rhinehardt lost his handle, went gliding across the turf and slammed into the center-field wall. He sustained a compound fracture of his right ankle and dislocated his fibula.
Rhinehardt recovered, and the Moose endured, as the ATV acrobatics remain a big part of his charade. The year following the waterskiing incident, in 1996, the mascot was at the center of a Nike campaign promoting Ken Griffey Jr. as a faux presidential candidate, with the Moose as his VP running mate. The ads featured Moose, Griffey and Clinton -- not Bill or Hillary, but George Clinton.
Griffey has retired, but the Moose remains. Including Rhinehardt, there have been eight to don the famed No. 00-jerseyed costume over the past 30 years, with the occasional fill-in. The Mariners typically keep the identity of the portrayer under wraps, creating a Santa Claus-esque effect. Speaking of, the Moose will also pop out the special garb from time to time -- Santa, Batman and Elvis are a few of his favorites.
"There are times that it can represent the club very well," Mariners team historian Randy Adamack said. "It’s fun and it’s more of a kid thing, but it’s also amazing how many adults want their picture taken with the Moose."
The Mariners have a mascot-dedicated room at T-Mobile Park to house all of these costumes. For the most part, there is just one primary outfit, but a few are on hand if needed. Occasionally, the mascot will take the costume home, but only in special circumstances, such as early morning visits away from the venue.
City-wide appearances are just as much part of the Moose’s appeal as the actual in-game entertainment. The Moose makes many visits to hospitals, fire departments and community events. In the offseason, there are also many promotions for the upcoming year. The Moose is much more multidimensional than even his backflips might suggest.