We left off last week chatting with Ted about the possibility of selling the rights to the Chicken and the evolution of the character. This week Ted discusses the difficulties with the role, how baseball has changed over the years, and what led him to branch out on his own.
Padres360 – What’s the most challenging thing about the role?
Ted – The most challenging thing for me. I have to say, as time has progressed, the more challenging thing for me these days, it wasn’t an issue back in the ‘70s, the ‘80s, even the early ‘90s, but these days, is reaching out to the ball players to appeal to their sense of humor to get involved in gags or routines because the game obviously has taken very serious overtones these days.
Padres360 – So much money.
Ted – And it’s culture. Right.
Padres360 – We would totally agree, totally agree.
Ted – And so, the ‘boys of summer’ spirit isn’t there like it used to be back in the day.
Padres360 – We agree, totally.
Ted – And what’s altered that is open to speculation. It could be money. Obviously, these contracts are now lotto tickets. It could be so many things. But it’s still there. It’s just a more difficult challenge appealing to players for their sense of humor. But it can be done. And it is there. But it’s a lot more difficult than it used to be. Back then, this surprises a lot of people. But back in the day players would come to me with ideas to try out. They would suggest ideas. Umpires would come to me with ideas.
Padres360 – They wanted to be part of it.
Ted – Yes.
Padres360 – And they dig it.
Ted – Yeah, they would come to me with ideas. They’d say, “Man, you got to do this. You got to do that. I’ll be out there.” And it was a different perspective, a different culture. It was a relaxed era. So, that’s what I would have to say, that sports. And it’s clear I’m not the first to say this obviously, but sports are taking itself extremely seriously these days.
Padres360 – Oh, yeah.Way too seriously.
Ted – Yeah. And it is entertainment. But let’s face it. Cyndi Lauper once sang ‘Money Changes Everything’. That might be the case. I don’t know. But you would think though, back in the day, if you told players that they would be signing contracts that would be lotto tickets, guaranteed lotto tickets for life, you’d think they’d be laughing to the bank every day. Actually, it’s been the converse of that. But back in the day when they made less, I think they actually had more fun.
>>>Here is a fun example of a promo commercial for the Famous Chicken:
>>> Free Agency may have changed the game of baseball but you could say that Ted had his own free agency as well. Here is talks about his break away from the Padres and going on his own …
Padres360 – You kind of mentioned it or talked about it a little bit. What made you finally branch out on your own? I know the whole fall-out with KGB. I was a kid. I must have been 12 when all of it happened. What was the break? What made you branch out?
Ted – What made me branch out was just the volume of requests I was getting. My very first minor league game that I ever did was at the invitation of the Padre General Manager Bob Fontaine. He just came back from a scouting mission in El Paso and he calls me up and he says, “Ted, I’ve got an old friend who’s a general manager down in El Paso. Would you consider going and doing a minor league game for him? He’s a friend of mine. Can you do it as a favor to me? Here’s his number.” So I called him up. His name was Jim Paul and he was like a madman of the minor leagues. He was doing all kinds of wild promotions in El Paso, Texas, a team that he bought for $1,000.
Padres360 – Oh my, gosh, that is so funny. And the Padres AAA team is back there; The Chihuahuas.
Ted – That’s right. So, I talked to Jim Paul and he says, “Can you come out here for the last game of the season?” So we went in for the last game of the season, record crowd in El Paso, Texas. He was beside himself. I was taken aback. I said, “I did not know they knew me in El Paso.” He said, “Yeah, they watch you from the highlights,” you know, that sometimes they’ll show, this week in baseball and the local highlights. And it’s crazy here. And they came out. Even he was taken aback by the huge turnout. And then the word spread. That was my first minor league game, 1978, August ’78.
Then the word spread for next season. I started getting a lot of invitations from the minor leagues. And of course, the major league teams would call me up. “Can you come here?” or “Can you come there?” And I went at first for free. I didn’t charge anything. Just, “Sure. Just sent me a ticket, I’ll come out there.” And then it started getting huge attendances for these fans. And it was, again, Jim Paul. He took me aside and he says, “You know, you got to start charging for these appearances.” “We’re doing okay, but listen. You’ll do well for yourself. Don’t charge me as much as you will everybody else, but I’m telling you.”
Jim Paul suggested, “You’ve got to go to the winter meetings, set up a little booth, talk to these teams and engage them and invite them one place where they can see for three or four days, come and book with you.” And I did and it was like wildfire. Did not know, I did not know. And all these teams started calling me up because it was a box office draw for them. And it continues to be to this day. And so fans would bring out their families. They say it’s going to be a fun night. And it’s a tougher nut to crack in the minor leagues where they don’t know the players. So to have faith that this promotion is going to be fun and enjoyable and worth your time to come out, especially when you don’t know any of the players on the field, was a harder achievement to overcome and be successful at, which I luckily was. As opposed to say a major league game where you say, “Oh well we still see the Yankees and the Rangers. So even if this guy’s a bust, we still get to enjoy the game.” But I would go to do the major league games and it was like the cherry on top of the icing. I would sell out.
Padres360 – Oh, yeah.
Ted – Tiger Stadium, Arlington Park where the Rangers played, Wrigley Field. This was at a time before stadiums would sell out their games routinely. But in the major leagues and as well in the minor leagues, they would sell out these dates for Chicken Night. And out the fans would come for nothing more than to get a laugh. So that’s where it really branched out. It was about ’78, ’79.
Padres360 – Well it’s interesting you say that, because he’s wearing his Tucson Padres shirt and we know you appeared there this year. We so wanted to go but we had a conflict.
Ted – Yeah, yeah. And we booked that, I think only with three weeks Mike Feder had been lobbying me and I was taking most of the summer off, a rare summer off. This and I think one other time I took most of the summer off. But that summer I took off and he was lobbying me and he says, “Ted, for old times’ sake,” because I knew him from the ‘80s. I’ve been going to Tucson since the ‘80s. And he said, “Can you just come out because we’re closing it down.” And so I threw in the towel. I said, “Let’s go do a game.” “Alright.” And so it was three weeks’ notice. It ended up being their second biggest crowd after the fireworks.
Padres360 – Oh yeah.
Ted – But Mike really went promoting it well and it turned out well for them. And it was fun. It was fun. But yeah, fans just come out. Now, I’m seeing fans who were kids bringing their kids out, from back in the day.
Padres360 – They have a tradition.
Ted – Yeah, yeah.
A question from “The Famous Chicken Baseball Quiz Book”
Which of the following players did NOT collect 20 doubles, triples and home runs in the same season during his career?
- Willie Mays
- George Brett
- Jim Rice
- Jim Bottomley
Answer next week!
Of course, we can’t leave you hanging from last week – here is the question and answer!
What player went in to run for Ted Williams and hit a home run in the same inning?
- Caroll Hardy
- Jimmy Piersall
- Gene Stephens
- Marthy Keogh
Answer: Gene Stephens, after pinch running for Ted Williams, stayed in the lineup and had his turn at bat come up as the Red Sox went around the batting order on July 13, 1959. Stephens took advantage of the at-bat and hit a grand slam.
In our next edition, it’s getting under the feathers and learning about the Chicken Suit!