July 9, 2003, found first baseman Randall Simon in the middle of his first season with the Pirates, in the middle of a forgettable career that hovered just above replacement level. Well, not totally forgettable. Simon didn’t start on the night of the incident, but he did make the final out in the top of the seventh after pinch-hitting for starting pitcher Kris Benson. Simon was roundly booed when he stepped to the plate for something he had done with his bat before the inning began. The boos were just the beginning of what would become one of the dumbest national baseball scandals in a decade that would produce a lot of them.
The Brewers’ sausage race, a promotion for a sausage company located in Milwaukee, involves five (though at that time, four) people dressed in oversized foam costumes of sausage characters. Each costume is more than 7 feet tall. The race, which was then held between the sixth and seventh innings, typically starts on the dirt track near third base and continues behind home plate before finishing somewhere up the first-base line. On this night, as the characters came by the Pirates’ dugout on the third-base side, Simon stood on the step and stuck out a bat and playfully, if stupidly, tapped the oversized chef’s hat of the Italian sausage named Guido. The impact caused Guido to lose “his” balance and fall to the ground. Hot dog tripped over Italian sausage and fell, too. Guido stayed down for a bit and struggled to get up, but he made it to his feet and finished.
Bratwurst won the race.
And then all stupid hell broke stupidly lose. What should have been something for everyone to gawk and laugh at instead became serious business, especially since Mandy Block, the 19-year old in the Guido costume, and Veronica Piech, the 21-year old in the hot dog getup, sustained no more than scrapes to their knees—injuries that were handled at a first-aid station. Ned Yost, then the Brewers manager, summed it up perfectly by saying, “I just looked over and saw our wieners in a wad.” But after the game, Simon was arrested by sheriff’s deputies on a misdemeanor battery charge. And Rick Schlesinger—at the time the Brewers’ executive vice president for business operations, now their CEO—completely lost his shit, calling Simon’s action “one of the most outrageous things I’ve ever seen inside a ballpark or outside a ballpark. It sickened me to see it.” Because for fuck’s sake.
The next day, the deputy district attorney reduced the charges against Simon to disorderly conduct. Simon was fined $432 and sent on his way. Block didn’t want to press charges, though she did ask Simon for an autographed bat; Simon obliged by giving one to both her and Piech. Block would tell a Milwaukee radio station she thought the whole “controversy” was “funny to me.” The Pirates and Brewers played the following afternoon, and at a press conference just before the Pirates left for Houston to play the Astros, Simon offered an apology. That should have been the end of it. By all rights the incident should have ended right there, living on only in blooper videos narrated by John Webber.
But no. The story wouldn’t die, and not because it was just so silly. Incredibly, MLB fined Simon $2,000 and suspended him for three games, with Bud Selig saying this:
“Obviously, the type of behavior exhibited by Mr. Simon is anathema to the family entertainment that we are trying to provide in our ballparks and is wholly unacceptable.”
Right. But the story also became fodder for Professionally Aggrieved Newspaper People, many of whom kept the story alive for another couple of weeks, both with some truly awful puns and with plenty of jokes about how Simon had not yet gotten a hit that month. As expected, a lot of what was written has not aged well.
House editorial, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, July 11, 2003:
But what happened at Miller Park on Wednesday night was not funny. It was dumb and it was reckless, as in bordering on criminal conduct.
Dale Hofmann, Edmonton Journal, July 11, 2003:
In the provincial land of cheeseheads and deadlocked all-star games, Randall Simon’s stupidity was only borderline criminal, but not at all close to funny. That’s just us.
The rest of the country sees a hot dog suit falling over an Italian sausage costume, which you have to admit is Homer Simpson hilarious. We’re dull enough to remember there’s a person in that get-up, and when humans encounter bats in motion, personal injury is a predictable outcome.
Rob Oller, Columbus Dispatch, July 13, 2003:
You might not know that Guido wasn’t the first costumed character to take one for the team. Or give one. Recent history is full of pratfalls and pitfalls involving mascots who crossed the line, intentionally or otherwise, in pursuit of laughs.
Blame it on the almighty entertainment dollar. Give LeBron James $90 million and we expect him to be like Mike. Pay $30 for a field seat and we expect our frankfurters to flip out of the bun and do 4 furlongs in 51 seconds. Or at least appear on ESPN.
Todd Schultz, Lansing State Journal, July 13, 2003:
We know the good guys are out there somewhere. But it’s easy to lose track of them in the crime-infested sports pages we pick up each morning. Last week alone, the headlines we surveyed over our Cheerios told us:
• Yet another star athlete (Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers) was accused of sexual assault.
• Yet another star athlete (Damon Stoudamire of the Portland Trailblazers) was busted for drug use.
• Yet another star athlete (Randall Simon of the Pittsburgh Pirates) was cited after using a baseball bat to smack a team mascot dressed in a sausage costume.
OK, that might have been a first.
Point is, it sometimes feels as though the bad apples are rolling the sports barrel straight into the abyss. Every now and then - and now seems like a mighty good time - we need a reminder that the good guys are still playing the games we love.
Ken Newton, Saint Joseph (Mo.) News-Press, July 13, 2003:
The ballplayer resisted the religious-freedom defense that in his native Curacao racing sausages have certain satanic significance. Who would know? Instead, he promised to never again make minced meat of ballpark mascots.
Nick Canepa, San Diego Union-Tribune, July 14, 2003:
Mandy Block, the 19-year-old struck by the bat, refused to press charges. Why, I don’t know — could it be because she’s a sausage for a living? — but that’s her business.
This wasn’t a movie. This wasn’t staged. It was a terribly stupid act, one that certainly would have brought about more severe punishment had it taken place on the street instead of the sanctuary of a ballpark, where law of the land rarely comes into play.
Wallace Matthews, New York Sun, July 15, 2003:
Randall Simon’s swatting of an Italian sausage engaged in the silly Milwaukee tradition of the between innings Bratwurst race last week falls somewhere in between the tossing of an M-80 into a crowd of fans by a trio of Mets 10 years ago and the on-camera ice-water dousing of Tim McCarver, broadcaster, by Deion Sanders, spoiled superstar.
What Simon did to 18-year-old Mandy Block was worse than what Sanders did to McCarver, but not nearly so egregious as what Vince Coleman, Bobby Bonilla, and Daryl Boston did to a crowd of fans outside Chavez Ravine, nearly blinding a two-year-old girl.
Yet all three incidents share a common thread: the blatant disrespect professional athletes have for anyone who is not part of the jockocracy. Simon says he meant no harm with his playful swipe at Block, but the truth is he would not have even thought of doing anything like that if the race were between three ballplayers.
House editorial, Tulsa World, July 15, 2003:
There is no excusing what Simon did. He is smart enough to know that there are real people under those silly costumes. And, yes, most everyone would like to take a swing at one of them. But most people resist such a temptation.
Jack O’Connell, Hartford Courant, July 15, 2003:
Baseball still has its share of regrettable incidents, such as Sammy Sosa’s corked bat incident and the recent Randall Simon attack on a sausage mascot in Milwaukee. But those were also situations that were out front for everyone to witness, unlike the conference rooms in which sordid doings often treat the game as an afterthought.
Joel McNally, Capital Times of Madison, Wis., July 19, 2003
The story dominated the news on a day when nothing else newsworthy had happened except that two more American soldiers were killed in Iraq, including one from Wisconsin.
Oh, yeah. And Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld revealed before Congress that keeping our troops who are getting killed almost daily in Iraq is costing us $3.9 billion a month. (Not $4 billion a month, mind you. It’s the old discount store trick of setting the price at $3.995 billion.)
And for all those history buffs who remember the quagmire of Vietnam, President George W. Bush assures us we will stay the course as long as it takes. We’re not going to cut and run. As for those attacks that are killing young Americans, Bush says, bring ‘em on.
[Editor’s note: McNally carries on like this for more than 800 words.]
The National Hot Dog & Sausage Council, which exists, issued a statement saying it was “saddened and shocked by the display of violence” exhibited by Simon. The organization also gave a Block a certificate, saluting her for her bravery, prompting her to say, “I didn’t even know there was a hot dog council.” The tourism board in Curacao, where Simon is from, gave Block and Piech an all-expenses-paid trip to the island. Block continued to work as a sausage until May 2004, when she quit to enroll at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
These days, she’s married and works in financial services in Madison. I reached out to Block yesterday to ask about an interview. This morning, she wrote back:
Good Morning Dom,
Thank you for your email below. I am impressed with your journalism skills, I thought this would be the first year I wouldn’t receive any calls/emails due to my last name change/marriage last year. I was not aware it was a decade until you emailed, and my mom also sent me a video text of PTI declaring the 10 year anniversary on their show (yes, she records the TV screen on many occasions with her smart phone-an upgrade to taking pictures of it back in the day).
As a Green Bay Packer Fan, I know Deadspin (Infamous Favre Sext Msg), and don’t worry I am Team Rodgers. I can’t imagine I’d have anything exciting to add to the already hilarious wiener debacle of 2003, but I appreciate your polite email request. I hope your story is exciting and I’d include some hot dog puns, but I think the media exhausted those years ago.
Good Luck with your story & Take Care,