Last week we took a peek under the Chicken’s feathers. For this edition of Tuesday with Ted, we will dig into behind the scenes and The Grand Hatching as well as “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes.”
PADRES360: What are some little-known facts about The Chicken?
TED: Little-known facts. Wow. I would say probably… I got to tell you, publicly people don’t know how much work and effort goes into an appearance. And people don’t know that when I go to an appearance, we’re at the ballpark three hours before the first pitch. And people don’t know that I’m still there about two hours minimum to three hours after the last pitch. They will tell you…
PADRES360: Signing, right?
TED: Signing autographs, posing for pictures.
PADRES360: Oh, you were in Tucson at two in the morning, wasn’t it?
TED: That’s right.
PADRES360: Two in the morning, they were tweeting that out. When we found that out, we got back out there.
TED: Oh, that’s not uncommon. That’s not uncommon. But people don’t… To the layman, they think, “Oh, he just shows up, jumps up and down in a costume, things happen on the field, the players and the umpires and the coaches and what have you. And everybody goes home.” No, there’s a lot of work that goes behind every appearance. There really is. Setting it up, the logistics, letting umpires know that I’m here and what gags I want to do and letting the players know.
Going up into the press box and letting the sound crew know I need this particular music played at this particular inning. And it’s pretty well-structured. There’s room to improvise if it presents itself. But nowadays when I perform, I got to make that audience laugh every inning that I’m out there. So a lot of preplanning goes into that. People just don’t realize. So it might look goofy and it’s supposed to look goofy on the surface, but a lot of thought goes into it.
To get to that level. I will say that’s probably the number one thing.
PADRES360: This might be kind of reiterating stuff we’ve already gone over. But what are some favorite memories that you have from your entire career? Things you just look back on and just, oh maybe your heart skips a beat a little bit, just really brings you pleasure.
TED: Oh, the top item was the Grand Hatching at Jack Murphy Stadium in June of ’79. That was a very emotional moment for me and obviously sports fans. Because I had just been fired by KGB in May and I was branching out on my own as a free agent chicken, so to speak.
And I devised this elaborate Grand Hatching ceremony out of my Styrofoam egg. And more than 47,000 people turned out for the fifth place Padres to see them play the sixth place Astros. But the only draw was this guy in a chicken suit is going to show up after being fired and he’s going to unveil his new outfit. Nobody knew. It could have been a turtle. It could have been a giraffe.
I decided to come back as Chicken 2.0. And this was flying in the face of legal ramifications at that time that I eventually won on appeal. So 47,000 people came out, I hatched out of this gigantic Styrofoam egg and got a 10-minute standing ovation from these people. And it’s the only time in my life I can honestly tell you that I felt profuse cold sweat come out of me. It was 80 degrees that night, but to feel that cold sweat is a unique feeling that I was shivering inside, so cold. And how could I be so cold? I was literally… The emotion had overcome me so much that I was breaking out into cold sweat. Seeing that kind of, I’ll say it, outright love.
PADRES360: Love, yeah.
TED: Of these fans who’ve turned out. Keep in mind. Padres were averaging 14,000 a night. And I remember going to Ballard Smith after I’ve been fired by KGB. Yeah. After being fired by KGB, I started getting these invitations by teams. They were pitching me. St. Louis, “Hey, come. We’ll make you a mascot.” The Mets, “Hey we’ll create a mascot for you here.” Seattle, “We’ll pay you big money. Come with us.” I said, “No, I got to stay here. I have to stay here. I am going to stay in the belly of the beast and win this.” Because these people put me on the map and I’m going to stay here and make this happen from San Diego, California, USA for these people who are in my corner. I’m not going to leave. And so I’m going to go to the belly of the beast and win this thing. And so I remember Ballard saying, “Okay. Well we’ll pay you $300 a game to do the rest of the season in your new outfit, whatever that is, which was pittance, considering. Not necessarily a pittance in terms… relatively speaking, considering what the other teams are paying. Seattle was offering a quarter million bucks.
TED: Right, right. I said, “Okay.” But I remember saying to Ballard though, “How much for the first night back?” And he laughed it off. “What’s the big deal about your first night back?” I said, “I think I can make something special out of it.” And he laughs it off. “Ted, you’re just coming back in a chicken suit.” “So let me try.” He says, “Give me something special.” So we negotiated that I would be paid $2 a head for every fan that attended that night above their average.
PADRES360: Oh, geez, uh oh.
TED: Ballard said to me, “We’re averaging 14,000 fans. How many do you think you’re going to get over that?” I said, “I don’t know. But let’s try, Ballard.” And so he says, “Ted,” so I’d like to come back Friday night, June 29th against the Astros. He says, “Ted, we’re playing the last place Astros. And it’s the first big weekend of the Del Mar Fair. We get killed here when the Del Mar Fair opens up. You really think you’re going to draw somebody here?” “Doesn’t hurt to try, you just got those empty seats. Give them to me if I fill them.” So we negotiated $2 a head for everybody I could draw over 18,000. He bumped it up to 18,000.
So I say, “Okay, 18,000 it is, Ballard. Okay, alright.” So we negotiated it and I promoted the thing like a wrestling match in the media. “It’s going to be the funniest night of the year! June 29th! You got to be here. I’m going to tell you what I’m coming back as. But you got to come out here and see it.” And then I also held a press conference.
I held a big press conference inside of a gigantic Styrofoam egg, that I was about to hatch out. So the media had to interview me through the egg. Well that night, they had to hold up the game for the biggest walkup that I’ve ever experienced in our franchise history. They literally held the game up and 47,000 people turned out.
>>>In case you missed it or want to relive it — The Grand Hatching!!
Does everyone else LOVE how involved the MLB Players were in this as much as we do???
TED: Yeah, walkup.
TED: And they could tell it was, as they say today, trending.
PADRES360: They probably didn’t have enough people to sell tickets.
TED: No. It packed it. In fact, they packed it out to the gills. I remember telling Ballard, “If we hit over 40,000,” and I had this in our deal, “If we hit over 40,000, you will pay me $2 a ticket for the complementary tickets, too.” And he was aghast. He says, “Why would?” I say, “Because if we hit 40,000 Ballard, that means you’re using up, your complementary tickets are using up revenue that I could have taken care of.”
He says, “Ted, if we hit 40,000, okay, we’ll pay you for your complementary tickets.” Unbeknownst to him, he had a wave of interest from the ball players for complementary tickets. And the media asked me for complementary tickets. He had to pay. He had more than 2,000 requests.
PADRES360: More money for you.
TED: Right. He normally gets a couple of hundred complementary tickets to give up. 2,000 was preposterous. But sure enough, we had more than 40. The paid attendance I think ended up being 44, 45 thousand, somewhere in there. And the actual attendance in the house was over 47. And he had to pay for all of it. And he was incredulous. I said, “What are you mad about, Ballard? You got the rest.”
You got the parking. You got the food. And you got everything over two bucks.
He says, “Okay, yeah. We did well. Yeah.” But he couldn’t believe. He ended up paying more than $40,000 to a guy in a chicken suit for one single night.
PADRES360: Now is that your biggest take ever on a single night?
TED: Yes, that probably was. The thing is though, all of that went to legal fees, all of it. So that went, because I was in litigation with KGB that went all the way to the California Supreme Court. So that one night obviously acted as my defense fund.
Which is wonderful. It kept me alive.
PADRES360: Yeah, that means you’re here today, really, because that funded that.
TED: It kept me alive. Because I could not afford a defense. I would not have been able to afford a defense. And I won in the California Supreme Court. And here I am to this day. But that one night literally saved my bacon, so to speak. So that is the…
PADRES360: And eggs, bacon and eggs.
TED: Yeah, that is the number one special moment.
PADRES360: Did you ever envision that you would still be doing this? Even that night, did you think it would still be going on today?
TED: No. No. It’s hard to believe. I thought I had another five, maybe maximum ten-year run. That would have been a long time. Even then, doing it for five years was considered a long time. This was originally a one-week promotional gimmick for a radio station.
So I figured I had a solid at least five more years to go. But it just kept growing and growing in popularity. And of course, with the advent of cable and other media, it just enormously grew the awareness of the San Diego Chicken nationwide. So as media progressed and expanded, so did awareness across the country, to the point where I was getting invitations from small towns all the way to Madison Square Garden.
PADRES360: Before you retire, what are the top things you want to do as The Chicken?
TED: Oh! Oh, I think write a comedy book of memoirs that I’ve always been encouraged to do beyond this. Because I think that was after three or four years. And that ended up being a bestseller in San Diego.
PADRES360: Oh, yeah. I can imagine.
TED: Yeah. I know, because they paid me 25 cents a book for it as a royalty. And I thought, “My gosh, I’m rich!” I didn’t know so many.
And they probably held back. They skimmed sales from me without knowing, for all I knew. But I just went by their good faith. So whatever they said it was, it was. But yeah, a comedy book of memoirs. Probably some more things in the media, I’ll probably do. But who knows? Television or film or whatever still.
PADRES360: Have you been in any movies?
TED: I was in one movie, ‘Attack of the Killer Tomatoes’.
I did a cameo. Actually ended up being one of my regrets because positively they wanted me to star in the picture. They were going to write this thing around me to star in it. My schedule back in the day at KGB was so busy, so hectic, I couldn’t star in it. I did not have the time to take two weeks out of my schedule to shoot this film. It was two weeks, believe it or not. And so I suggested doing, “Hey I’m available next Thursday afternoon. I can do a scene or something, if you like.” So they wrote a scene where I would be doing a cameo in the climax. It got to be such a bad film that it was honored. It was one of those films that were so bad it was so highly sought after.
TED: It even made it on HBO.
PADRES360: Oh, I’ve got it. Became cultish.
TED: Cultish. They even ran it on HBO. It was so bad. It was so bad, it was good. It was in. It was hip. And it was one of my greatest regrets. I say, “I could have starred in this thing.” But I didn’t have two weeks to give them. I was out there every day for something. And that’s why it’s one of my regrets. So I could only star in the climax scene.
PADRES360: And to make matters worse, do you know who starred in the sequel?
TED: George Clooney wasn’t it?
PADRES360: Yeah. Look what it did for him.
TED: Yeah, that’s right.
PADRES360: I mean, your nest would have been so feathered.
TED: Yes, absolutely. Yeah.
>> Movie Trailer
PADRES360: Have you considered writing your memoirs and if you were, what do you think would be a working title?
TED: Oh, man. Oh, man. I don’t, as a working title. Yes, I have considered, obviously, the memoirs.
PADRES360: So many people are inspired by stories like yours.
TED: Yeah. That’s a good point. Yeah, a lot of people have told me. My wife tells me every month, especially when I pull out some story, some anecdote that even she hadn’t heard. And she says, “Are you nuts? This is in your head and it’s not on paper? Ah!” I just have to discipline myself and do it. You’re absolutely right. You’re absolutely right. And I will. I will do it.
A question from “The Famous Chicken Baseball Quiz Book”
Who was the first player o hit a home run in the Houston Astrodome?
- Mickey Mantle
- Doug Rader
- Sonny Jackson
- Willie Mays
Answer next week!
Of course, we can’t leave you hanging from last week – here is the question and answer!
This Hall of Famer pitched a total of three games and totaled five innings while giving up six hits and two walks. He first pitched in 1918 and again in 1925. Name him:
- Ty Cobb
- Ed Roush
- Sam Crawford
- Casey Stengel
Answer: Ty Cobb tried his luck at pitching twice in 1928 and then once again in 1925.
Be sure to join us next week!