Jim Salisbury

Phillies will unveil a new-look Phanatic on Sunday

Phillies will unveil a new-look Phanatic on Sunday

CLEARWATER, Fla. — You might have heard that slugger Rhys Hoskins made some changes to his batting stance and swing over the winter.

Hoskins isn't the only prominent Phillie who made some adjustments in the off-season.

Word around Phillies spring training camp is that the Phanatic has made a few alterations himself. Fans will get a peek at the Big Green Guy's new look Sunday when the Phillies host the Pittsburgh Pirates at Spectrum Field. Aaron Nola will be the Phillies' starting pitcher, Hoskins will be in the lineup, and, yes, the game will be televised on NBC Sports Philadelphia.

Don't fret, Phanatic fans. 

The lovable ol' whatever-he-is is still green, still furry and still funny as all get-out, thanks to the comic "personality" that has been developed over 41 years by Tom Burgoyne and before him, David Raymond. That Phanatic will still race around the ballpark on his four-wheeler, shoot hot dogs toward the sky, shine the head of bald guys and torment players in the visiting dugout.

But his shoes might be different. 

Socks, too.

Some of his measurements may be different. (The result of some off-season work in the weight room, perhaps?)

There are apparently other creative changes, as well, but we'll all just have to see for ourselves when the Phanatic joins one of his biggest fans, Bryce Harper, on the field Sunday.

Changes are nothing new for the Phanatic. His shape, markings and attire have evolved over the years and "evolve" is probably the right word because, according to the Phillies media guide, he was born in the Galapagos Islands, the place that helped Charles Darwin form his theory of evolution.

The changes to the Phanatic's look come as the team is embroiled in a lawsuit with Bonnie Erickson and Wayde Harrison, who were hired to design the original Phanatic costume back in the late-1970s.

READ MORE: Details of the lawsuit involving the Phillie Phanatic

The Phillies purchased rights to the Phanatic in 1984, but federal law allows artists to renegotiate rights to their work after 35 years.

In 2018, Erickson and Harrison informed the Phillies that they would seek to wrest the rights to the Phanatic away from the team unless it paid them millions. Last year, the Phillies filed a lawsuit against Erickson and Harrison in New York federal court to keep their beloved mascot. The Phillies contend that the Phanatic's four-decade rise from a costume to a Philadelphia sports and cultural icon is the result of their own creative forces and investment and therefore makes the creature property of the team.

The Phillies' rights to the Phanatic will expire on June 15, but the club is hoping the latest round of creative changes will be enough to legally continue its use of the Phanatic.

Legal feuds involving the rights to characters like the Phanatic are not new. There have been notable disputes over the rights to Winnie the Pooh and Paddington Bear.

Citing litigation, Phillies officials have declined comment on the matter for months and did so again this week.

But enough with all this legalese.

Rev up the four-wheeler. Can't wait for Sunday and the big reveal. 

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Phillies avoid arbitration, reach deal with Hector Neris

Phillies avoid arbitration, reach deal with Hector Neris

The Phillies have avoided a salary-arbitration hearing with Hector Neris, settling with the reliever for $4.6 million, according to a league source.

The deal includes a team option for $7 million in 2021, which would have been Neris’ final year of arbitration eligibility before free agency. The team option is a $7 million base salary but could rise with escalators.

The settlement with Neris comes days after the Phillies participated in their first arbitration hearing in 12 years, which went in their favor over J.T. Realmuto. 

Neris has a 3.29 ERA in his six seasons with the Phillies and last season set career bests in saves (28), WHIP (1.02) and opponents’ batting average (.186). 

The 30-year-old made $1.8 million in 2019. 

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Joe Girardi defends himself against sign-stealing video – 'We caught them,' he says

Joe Girardi defends himself against sign-stealing video – 'We caught them,' he says

CLEARWATER, Fla. — The story that won’t go away wended its way through Phillies camp Thursday in the form of a 22-second video of Joe Girardi talking about illicit sign-stealing.

The video was plucked from a segment on sign-stealing that Girardi participated in during his time with the MLB Network. It was taped in mid-October, just before he was named Phillies manager.

In the video, analyst and former big-league pitcher Al Leiter asks Girardi, “What did you guys use?”

The question is accompanied by some laughs but it’s clear that Leiter is asking what means the New York Yankees used to pick up signs during Girardi’s time as manager of that club from 2008 to 2017.

Girardi responds by saying, “I was part of a system …” He then explains how signs were detected “upstairs” and relayed down to the dugout and field.

At first blush, it sounds rather incriminating. 

Until you hear how Girardi punctuates his comment.

“We eventually caught it,” he says in the video.

Girardi knew the video had been making the rounds — he said it made him laugh — and was prepared to answer questions about it after Thursday's workout.

“If people listen to the whole video, you can put 2 and 2 together and know what I’m talking about,” he said. “We caught them.”

Caught who?

There was a long pause.

“Put 2 and 2 together,” he said.

The implication was that Girardi was talking about the Houston Astros, who were nailed for illegal sign-stealing during the 2017 season. The Astros eliminated Girardi’s Yankees in the ALCS that season and went on to win the World Series.

But he may have been talking about the Boston Red Sox, an AL East rival of the Yankees, who are also under investigation for stealing signs illegally.

Who knows?

As fallout from the cheating scandal has engulfed baseball in the early weeks of spring training, Girardi has been mostly reserved while speaking with Philadelphia reporters about the topic. The emergence of the MLB Network video resulted in him being more expansive Thursday.

Girardi was asked about his saying, “I was part of a system” in the video.

“Yeah, the system was our system caught the other group,” he said. “If you listen to the whole video, we caught the other team. It was coming from upstairs to someone in the dugout and then relayed one way or another. I laugh because people are cutting it up and trying to make it something.

“It wasn’t our team doing it. We caught the other team doing it. And I think part of this is why the Commissioner has put out some of these rules and I think it’s important that we protect the integrity of the game because that is really important to me.”

Girardi was asked if his team reported the violating team to MLB.

“As a manager, I personally don’t, but that doesn’t mean that the team I was on didn’t,” he said.

The video dealt extensively with the importance of teams protecting their signs from being stolen and that has been a theme of Girardi’s first camp with the Phillies.

“A lot of people want to talk about what happened in 2017, ‘18, ’19,” he said. “No. It’s what we do moving forward, guys, that’s important to me.

“It’s complicated in a lot of manners and guarding your signs is really difficult today with all the cameras and everything you can see. So you have to be really clever. It’s hard.”

MLB is expected to come up with tighter guidelines regarding access to video around the dugout before opening day. One possible solution would be locking down the video room at game time. But that comes with complications because teams need access to instant replay to challenge umpire calls.

“I don’t know if I’ve thought through it enough because I know players like watching their at-bats,” Girardi said. “I think the replay room has caused a lot of consequences that they did not foresee. And I’m a proponent of replay. I think it’s important. But there’s some consequences that I don’t know any of us foresaw as we put this is in because it’s usually right next to the video room."

One potential solution is barring players from watching video during the games — it seemed to work OK for Ted Williams and Mike Schmidt — and moving those who keep tabs on potential replay challenges upstairs to the press/broadcast level.

Girardi said he wouldn’t mind if those who oversee replay challenges moved upstairs but he’s not sure about closing off the video room to players.

“I don’t know what the right answer is because players like watching their at-bats,” he said.

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