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Is The Phillie Phanatic A Muppet?

close up of the phanatic's face.
Elsa/Getty Images

You always know where the Phillie Phanatic is because the children are pointing. It doesn't matter which section of the stadium you sit in, or where he has magically appeared—their little hands dart out, pointer finger extended, triangulating the position of everyone's big green buddy. Even as a self-professed adult, I find it impossible to keep a straight face when the Phanatic is around. He zooms around on a four-wheeler. He tries to provoke the opposing players by challenging them to races. He galumphs his belly around with such gusto. When Shohei Ohtani visited last year, the Phanatic drew a portrait of him. When he visited England earlier this month, he dressed up as a palace guard.

The Phanatic is as mesmerizing as he is confounding. How does he have so many outfits? Where did he learn to drive a four-wheeler? Why is he canonically from the Galapagos Islands? Why does he have a mother but no father? All of these questions are haunting, but earlier this week, my colleague Barry raised an important, terrifying new one: Is the Phanatic a Muppet?

My first instinct was to balk at this question. Of course the Phanatic isn't a Muppet! He wasn't created by Jim Henson. He doesn't live on Sesame Street. He isn't owned by Disney, does not appear in any of the Muppets' many television and film incarnations. He is not even a puppet; there is a person in there. Allegedly. What a silly question! At least that's what I thought at first.

But not every Muppet is a puppet in the traditional sense of a hand inside the body. Big Bird is not a puppet the way Kermit is a puppet, and a puppet, apparently, does not have to be only animated by a hand or strings. Any creature animated by a person could be considered a puppet.

Plus, there is compounding evidence that the Phanatic might be a Muppet: They have the same mom!!

This was brought to my attention by a story in The Cut about Bonnie Erickson. Erickson, according to Muppet Wiki, designed or built many famed and uncontested members of the Muppets universe. Miss Piggy? Hers. Fozzie? Hers. Statler and Waldorf? You know it.

Erickson used the same rules when creating the Phanatic as for Muppets, giving him "a backstory (the Phanatic comes from the Galapagos Islands, is of indeterminate age), a unique shape (the snout was inspired by a megaphone), and a 'puppeteer' who was instructed to wear the costume even in his apartment to make his movements seem more natural."

So then: What is the difference between the Phanatic and a Muppet? The most technical answer would be that "Muppets" are a product of the Jim Henson Company, but that's boring. Muppets are funny-looking and the Phanatic is funny-looking. Muppets are chaotic, and the Phanatic is chaotic. Muppets value drama and silliness and physical humor. The Phanatic loves to shoot hot dogs out of a cannon, and jiggle his belly.

The only real difference I could pinpoint is communication. Most Muppets talk. A few, like the Swedish Chef and Beaker, are incomprehensible. Animal has a severely restricted vocabulary. Camilla the chicken only clucks. But they all make noises. The Phanatic is totally silent. I have never heard him say a word or make a sound. He doesn't sing. He doesn't tell jokes. Should that preclude him from being a Muppet? I think not! Being mute does not change who one is in their very soul.

And the soul—and the body and the backstory and the personality—of the Phanatic is that of a Muppet. Being a Muppet should not be a corporate designation! To be a Muppet is to possess an essential, internal muppethood. By this measure, Gritty is also a Muppet. So is the New York Liberty's Ellie the Elephant, who has the sass of Miss Piggy. Jaxson De Ville is definitely a Muppet, as is Youppi!—designed by Bonnie Erickson, by the way.

Mr. Met, however, is not a Muppet. He has neither the playful soul nor the instinct for destruction and chaos. Mr. Redlegs is also not a Muppet. Grizz, surprisingly, is not a Muppet either. He is not silly enough!

But there are so many Muppets that exist in the world, if you just open your mind and your eyes. There's always one on top of the Phillies' dugout.

The Philadelphia Phillies did not answer my question about whether the Phanatic is a Muppet in time for publication. I will attempt to ask the Phanatic in person this weekend at the game.

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