RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Now we're going to hear the origin story of one of baseball's weirder traditions. It was born over a quarter century ago, when the Milwaukee Brewers debuted their racing sausages. Today, nearly two-thirds of baseball teams have their own racing mascots. Joy Powers of member station WUWM in Milwaukee has the story.
JOY POWERS, BYLINE: In the early '90s, the Milwaukee Brewers' Racing Sausages were cartoon characters that raced in a video on the Jumbotron. Like other fans, graphic designer Michael Dillon would cheer along for his favorite sausage in the animated race. But that wasn't enough for him, so he pitched his idea to a Brewers executive.
MICHAEL DILLON: I said you should have them run in. I lobbied really hard. I'll make them. I'll run in them. You won't have to do anything. I'll bring them there.
POWERS: And so he did just that. Armed with foam core and his design expertise, he created the first three costumes based on the cartoon. In 1993, he put on his homemade brat costume and lined up alongside his competitors, Polish and Italian.
DILLON: Absolutely no one knew that this was going to happen, except possibly some grounds people. The Brewers themselves, the umpire didn't know. They started that sausage race on the Jumbotron, and then the cartoon stopped and went blank, and the gate swung open, and the crowd went insane.
POWERS: The special event became a regular part of the game a year later. In most mascot races, a group of costumed people lumber around a baseball field, seeing who can remain upright long enough to win. They're a silly distraction. And for some fans, like Diana Cook, they might as well not be there.
DIANA COOK: Given that I haven't really noticed that there are, like, mascot races, I don't place much value on them.
POWERS: But many others do. The races include caricatures of presidents in D.C., a tool race in Atlanta and the grand pierogi race in Pittsburgh. And many of these spinoffs originate in Milwaukee, too. The Olympus Group is a mascot manufacturer based in the city, which designs costumes for teams around the country. Mary Ribecky is one of the designers.
MARY RIBECKY: For Major League, we also do the Kansas City Royal hot dogs. But when you get into the minor leagues, that's where - all kinds of crazy things. We're racing jalapeno peppers, blue cheese hot wing and a celery stick. It's a lot of fun.
POWERS: But for designer Michael Dillon, these other races just don't measure up.
DILLON: They got the running pierogis, which is, like, running dumplings, really. I mean, the running presidential heads look ridiculous. I don't know if they still have the one where, like, there's a tooth and a toothbrush and toothpaste running. You know, it's just not fun. I mean, I'm not going to root for a tooth.
POWERS: This from a guy who cheers on a bratwurst wearing lederhosen. In the 25 years since the racing sausages became a staple of Brewers home games, the mascot race has become a tradition for baseball fans everywhere. And as fans cheer on Toothy in the Comfort Dental Tooth Trot, Michael Dillon can take pride in knowing he's partly to blame for this iconic piece of baseball Americana.
For NPR News, I'm Joy Powers, in Milwaukee.
(SOUNDBITE OF A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS' "I RAN (SO FAR AWAY)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.