After all this time, the fallen sausage speaks

'I thought it was hilarious'; reflections on an early viral moment

January 13th, 2022

A version of this story originally ran in June 2021.

If you've paid attention to baseball over the past 20 years, you've probably seen it. Even if you haven't paid attention to baseball, it probably somehow made its way into your video-watching orbit.

Back in July 2003, Pirates first baseman Randall Simon hit one of the Brewers' Racing Sausages with a bat from just outside the visitors dugout. The mascot went down and the clip circled TV stations everywhere. It was a shocking, strange and viral moment.

Both Milwaukee and MLB took the sausage smacking pretty seriously. Simon was questioned by police and fined for disorderly conduct. Baseball also fined and suspended him for three games. The narrative spun out of control, with Simon suddenly Public Enemy No. 1.

But what about the sausage? What did the sausage think?

"I thought it was hilarious," Mandy Wagner, the Italian Racing Sausage in question, told me over the phone. "From my perspective, it was so funny. I couldn't get up from the ground, and another sausage had to figure out how to kneel in a sausage costume to pull me up. ... Why would you not laugh at this?"

The night of July 9, 2003, started off like a typical one for 19-year-old Mandy Wagner: She arrived at Milwaukee's ballpark and got dressed in her seven-foot sausage costume. Wagner was working at Miller Park during her summer off from being a student at the University of Wisconsin.

"They called it the Super Team," Wagner said. "It's like an advertising group that helps cheer up the crowd."

Sometimes she was shooting shirts into the stands, other times she was a ball girl, but for many games she was a Racing Sausage. The Italian Racing Sausage, to be exact.

"Yes, the Italian, the Italian Sausage," Wagner laughed. "Because I just really liked the mustache."

Wagner said she participated in about a dozen races, and although she didn't take it too seriously (granted it was four, now five giant cartoonish sausage mascots racing around a baseball field), some of the men did. A few did it for years and identified as a hot dog or brat, tallying up their victories after each contest.

But, let's get back to that night.

Wagner and the three sausages lined up from their starting place in the left-field corner after the sixth inning. They took off, jostling for position and heading down toward the Pirates dugout. Standing at 5-foot-3, Wagner had to hold up the seven-foot sausage suit with a harness. It's top-heavy, a bit wobbly and hard to move left to right -- or come to a full stop if something gets in your way. It's also difficult to see anything unless it's straight ahead.

"You can't see peripherally in a sausage, Matt," Wagner politely reminded me.

Wagner couldn't see much of the Pirates dugout or Simon holding a bat along the rail (he was getting ready to bat in the next inning). Seeing the Italian Sausage wavering close to the dugout, Simon decided to take a playful half-swing at the back of the head -- likely where Wagner's arms were. Again, the suit is very top-heavy, so even a slight thwack could knock a person down. Wagner told me she didn't really even know when she got hit because of all that goes on with the costume and the loud atmosphere inside the ballpark.

"I don't know when the bat hit it, it was kinda behind me," Wagner said. "I just fell. I literally thought I fell on my own accord. In the moment, that's always my first default. Like, 'What did you do, you screwed this up. You fell, oh my god.' Then I just started laughing."

Another sausage, with a 21-year-old woman inside, tripped over Wagner and also fell to the ground. A 16-year-old boy, running in his first sausage race as the bratwurst, took full advantage of the commotion -- speeding ahead toward the finish line.

"He looked back and was like, 'Cool,'" Wagner remembered. "I mean, he didn't know what to do. Someone had to win this."

Wagner got up and finished the race, but then she and the other woman were whisked away to a stadium first-aid station. They had some scrapes, but Wagner said she was fine. She put a Band-Aid on her knee and one on her pinkie and reassured the Brewers staff everything was OK. She then finally saw the replay of what just happened on the TV monitors.

"I started laughing. I saw it for the first time and thought it was really funny," Wagner said. "I'm laughing in the first-aid station."

But once she got home, the madness started.

Friends were texting, asking if she was the one that fell. Late-night talk shows were contacting her at all times of the day -- so much so that she had to disconnect her family's phone lines. She never did go on any of the national late-night programs. Local Milwaukee media were having field days with their headlines.

Wagner did a few interviews, but wasn't happy with how the story was being played out in the press. She understood that someone shouldn't be hitting someone with a bat, but knew it wasn't malicious. Detectives came to her house to take photos of her pinkie, the D.A. called, Good Morning America did a satellite show from her backyard.

"After a week, I realized it was a narrative that I had no control over," Wagner told me. "I was just too young and didn't understand how to go forward. There was a certain story they wanted and I resonated with the funny part of it. I understood the part where you had to be more serious and understand we don't hit people with costumes on. But I didn't really want to play into that other story so much because it was getting into uncomfortable territory. They were criminalizing him and I didn't feel like that was fair. I didn't want to be a part of that."

Simon was booed during his pinch-hitting appearance in the top of the seventh inning and then questioned by sheriff's deputies after the game. He was arrested and booked for misdemeanor battery, although he didn't end up being charged with a crime. He was, as mentioned above, fined by both the city and MLB and suspended for a few games.

Pirates Public Relations reached out to Wagner to apologize and offer tickets to games, something she found very gracious and kind. Simon himself even gave her a call.

"He said, 'I'm so sorry,'" Wagner recalled. "I was like, 'I'm great! It's fine. Let's talk about the weird publicity.'"

Hearing him talk about the moment afterwards, Wagner truly believed Simon thought that the whole thing was a game and was trying to play with the mascots, rather than cause any harm.

"C'mon, we're dressed as giant sausages!" Wagner said. "It's supposed to be funny. Of course, I get it. ... It was a tap, he was surprised I fell. He tried to help me up, but they don't show that part."

Simon also sent her the bat from the July 9 episode, with his signature on the front.

The Curacao Tourism Department, the agency that reps Simon's home country, offered Wagner a vacation to the island free of charge. Simon was one of Curacao's biggest celebrities -- appearing on billboards all over the place. Wagner took them up on the offer, bringing her mom along on the trip.

Wagner didn't talk about the incident too much in the following years because she didn't like how the narrative was originally handled. But now that she's a little bit older and a little less shy, she's happy getting her side of the story out there. Former employers have had fun joking with her about the role she played that night and, when she's revealed herself to be that sausage to someone she's dated, the reaction has mostly been something along the lines of "WHAT!?"

"I got this cool bat, I have this story to tell my son, I have this book of newspaper articles," Wagner said. "I mean, to get into the New York Times is like a dream. A little different than I thought, but still."