If Ted Giannoulas’ name were to show up on baseball’s Hall of Fame ballots, some voters would shake their heads, trying to remember who he was and what he did on a baseball field.
If they put The Chicken on the ballot, millions around the world would immediately recognize it, likely with a chuckle as they recalled one of his comical skits.
The Chicken deserves a spot in baseball’s Hall of Fame. At his peak, The Chicken worked 250 days a year. He is working his 40th year, 35 of them traveling from coast to coast.
We sat in a Greer Stadium office, two hours before The Chicken would tickle the funny bones of those in the packed house there to watch the Nashville Sounds.
Giannoulas is now 60 years old. He supported his left knee with a tight elastic wrap. Arthritis, he said. After the game, The Chicken could be found in a corridor signing autographs until everyone who wanted one, got one. He took last summer off and is pondering taking next season off. His act is physically grueling.
I first interviewed The Chicken in 1980. His first visit to Greer Stadium was in 1979, against the Memphis Chicks. After his only appearance this season, he realized there would be only 17 more games played at Greer Stadium, which will give way to a new stadium next season on the former site of Sulphur Dell.
Greer Stadium is special to The Chicken. Then-President Larry Schmittou knew a hit act when he saw one and would bring The Chicken in three or four times a season. He would also get The Chicken to perform in Huntsville, Ala., in Greensboro, N.C., Salt Lake City and Salem, Va., where he had ownership in other teams.
“This was a crazy, wild place,’’ The Chicken clucked. “This was my first year of minor league baseball. In the early years, they had so many fans here. (Schmittou) would have the foul lines and outfield roped off where fans could stand and see the game.
“The fans here laughed so hard. They had country music stars scattered in the stands, such as Loretta Lynn, the Oak Ridge Boys’ Richard Sterban, Conway Twitty and Jerry Reed.’’
So why would baseball’s Hall of Fame consider a 5-foot-5 Canadian dressed up in Chicken feathers? Well, they have included baseball executives and umpires.
As The Chicken once told a ESPN.com writer: “They’ve got a players wing (in the Hall of Fame). They’ve got a broadcasters wing and I hope one day they’ll have a chicken wing.’’
Giannoulas is an entertainer. Kids love him. Grandparents giggle. He is baseball’s answer to the Harlem Globetrotters.
My favorite act is when The Chicken walks out on the diamond between innings. He recruits five of six kids of stair steps sizes to march in step behind him. When he patted an unsuspecting umpire on the butt, the baby Chickens followed. The smallest Chicken is sometimes three years old.
Several baby Chickens have gone on to play in the major and minor leagues.
“Nick Swisher was a baby Chicken in Norfolk, Virginia,’’ Ted said of those little chicks to make the major leagues . “He was three years old. His mother told me that was the proudest she had been of Nick on a baseball field,’’ Giannoulas said.
I asked Giannoulas what he wanted his legacy to be. He paused in thought before answering.
“Probably that he reminded everyone with a laugh that it was a game. He reminded us all, that of all the sports, baseball had the best sense of humor. Players could play hard and still take the time to laugh, for the fans,’’
Baseball has allowed some scoundrels in its Hall of Fame. Wouldn’t The Chicken be someone the Hall of Fame would be proud to have included with those who made the game better?
Contact wkrn.com Joe Biddle at firstname.lastname@example.org.