Sports mascots are the life of Claude Hubert.
For 20 years, he’s been involved in the industry, whether it’s making costumes, directing shows, training novices, or donning the costume himself for Canadian teams like the Montreal Dragons or the Montreal Machines. His face lit up during a recent Zoom call when asked what he enjoyed most about his entire experience in his particular profession.
“When you have a bad day and the team is losing and a kid comes to hug you and says, ‘I love you, Youppi,’ that’s it,” Hubert told me. “That’s it for me.”
Youppi!, the mascot of the Montreal Expos, is the most famous character Hubert has brought to life. yuppi! he was ever present for most of the Expos’ existence from 1979 to 2004. And Hubert was in costume from 1984 to 1991.
And one night in 1989, during a game against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Youppi! and Claude carved out their place in the baseball history books: The furry, big-nosed creature became the first and only mascot to be kicked out of a Major League game.
“Yeah, maybe it was making a little bit more noise than usual,” Hubert recalled with a laugh.
yuppi! He had two things against him that night.
First, the game was incredibly close and intense.
It was a 22-inning 1-0 battle, a pitching duel started by Pascual Pérez and Orel Hershiser and kept intact by a parade of nine relievers. This is more than two games. In a game this stressful, any team or manager would be upset if a giant monster started banging on the dugout.
Second, the manager of the Dodgers was Tommy Lasorda.
Lasorda was known for having little patience during his long and successful history as a manager. In fact, one of his most famous moments was when he got into a fight with the Phillie Phanatic. The Phillies mascot had an inflatable doll that looked like Lasorda, and the pilot didn’t find it funny. In the least.
“Well, I knew he didn’t like pets,” said Hubert. “Because something had happened with the Phillie Phanatic.”
Of course that does not mean that Youppi! He did not have his share of responsibility in what happened.
The Expos mascot was known for his trickery. It was a real headache. He would ride around on a four-wheel motorcycle, play pranks on the players and one night he stood for 20 minutes posing as the Statue of Liberty during the “New York, New York Night” celebration in Montreal.
That’s why in the 11th inning, Youppi! he set his sights on the Dodgers’ cave to distract visitors. It was the perfect place to get the most attention — from the public and from the TV cameras. And then he started making trouble.
“I fell with my pajamas on, so I was heavier than normal,” Hubert explained. “I made a lot of noise, but that was precisely my job. I was cheering for the Expos.”
That’s right, pajamas. When an Expos game went into extra innings, Youppi! changed into pajamas (an act some pets now copy).
“To let people know, ‘Well Youppi! he’s tired and wants to go to sleep,’” Hubert said.
Although Hubert definitely told me he was making a lot of noise, he added that there was a group of Expos fans behind him yelling at Lasorda and the players. And that was what made the pilot from Los Angeles the most angry. But if you watch the video, it seems that Lasorda’s anger was also directed towards the Expos’ mascot.
Possibly because of the length and closeness of the game, Lasorda’s anger or both, referee Bob Davidson felt he had to do something. Something unusual. Something he had never done before.
“Umpire Bob Davidson saw Lasorda arguing with me and decided to say, ‘Well Youppi! you leave the game,’” Hubert recalled.
Hubert got out and walked slowly towards the corridors of the stadium.
Still, he wasn’t entirely sure if he was actually ejected from the game or just couldn’t get back into the dugout. His colleague asked the referees and learned that he had indeed been ejected from the match.
“I took off my pajamas and threw them away. I threw my pillow away,” Hubert said.
“I got booed all over the place,” Davidson said afterward. “But I got booed quite a bit.”
Then, when spectators at the Olympic Stadium asked Youppi! for an entire inning, Davidson – possibly realizing the absurd decision he had made – backed up and allowed the mascot to return to the field. He simply had to promise to stay on the home team side. yuppi! he obeyed the new restriction and saw his team go down 1-0 in the marathon match. Dodgers backup catcher Rick Dempsey, who ended up running out five at-bats, hit the go-ahead home run off Expos pitcher Dennis Martinez in the top of the 22nd inning.
Then they talked about how long the meeting was, but also one of the main topics was the fiasco caused by Youppi!
“Yes, it was talked about in the press and since then, every year some radio or television station calls me,” said Hubert. “People are always talking about that event,”
A Montreal Gazette columnist even decided to come out against Youppi! after the game in question.
But Youppi’s performance that night cemented his place in the mascot lore: The Expos mascot was inducted into the Indiana Pet Hall of Fame in 2019 and, along with the Phanatic and the San Diego Chicken, is among three mascots on display at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
“Yeah, it’s really fun,” Hubert told me. “I was the third Youppi!, but it was my seasons that gave the most to talk about. I did a lot of skits, a lot of costumes, so yeah, I’m very proud. yuppi! In Montreal — in Quebec — it’s the mascot.”
yuppi! He is still a mascot for the Montreal Canadiens of ice hockey. But, like many pets these days, there isn’t much creativity, humor or effort in their performances. As Hubert points out, it may be that the team forbids it – preferring the focus to be on the players – because the actors in the costume are comfortable with that way of doing things. Your favorite major league mascot right now? The Phillie Phanatic, of course. (Although he does mention San Diego Chicken as a pioneer.)
“I met him. I went to Philly and we talked about pets,” Hubert said. “I see videos that he does, and he does a lot of moves that I did. Many of his scenes resemble mine. He is one of the best “.
Another incredible detail of Hubert’s great day as Youppi!? That same night, he met his future wife.
Hubert told me that it was not because of his expulsion – rather it was a coincidence that both things happened on the same day. She was friends with a friend who thought the two of them (probably Hubert the human and not the Youppi monster!) would make a good couple.
“During the match, a friend brought her to see me,” Hubert recalled. “He said, ‘Youppi! This is Silvia. Silvia, I present to you ‘Youppi!’ And she got me her phone number and after this, I saw her the next day and we were together for 32 years.”
That’s not to say she wasn’t blown away by her husband-to-be’s legendary moment.
“I liked how he reacted when I was sent off,” Hubert told me. “And I couldn’t believe the viewers were going, ‘Youppi! Youppi! Youppi! …’”.
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When a pet was expelled. Yes!