June 8, 2001 -- For the Anaheim Angels, it isn't about the money. It's about the monkey.
Their baseball business may not always be quite what they'd like it to be. But their monkey business has never been better.
And while we might have expected a team owned by Disney to raise the bar for ballpark innovation to an all-time high, little did anyone know it would be a monkey bar. [Editor's note: Disney is the parent company of ABCNEWS.com and ESPN.com.]
But then again, observes Angels director of entertainment Rod Murray, "who doesn't love a monkey?"
Or, to be more specific, who doesn't love the one, the only Rally Monkey?
Most Valuable Primate
For those who don't know the Rally Monkey — and honestly, we're ashamed of you — his home is the scoreboard video screen of Anaheim's Edison Field. And his role, basically, is to be the Angels' MVP.
Once there was a time, when the Angels needed a big hit, that they looked to Tim Salmon or Darin Erstad. Now, they look to the Rally Monkey.
And up there on the board, at just those special moments, the Rally Monkey appears, jumping up and down like the inspirational primate he is, as Angels fans everywhere immediately go (uh, what else?) ape.
Naturally, the Angels' record when the Rally Monkey appears is truly amazing (more on those exclusive Rally Monkey stats later in this column).
Unfortunately, we don't know how to explain the mystical powers of The Monkey. But we're pretty sure that many thousands of years ago, in some ancient civilization or another, monkeys were sacred creatures. And that must have something to do with it.
"Yeah," said Angels hitting coach Mickey Hatcher. "Once they shaved them, they called them human beings. I know we've got a couple of coaches who are hairy enough to be monkeys."
Nevertheless, anthropological issues aside, no one is still exactly sure how the Rally Monkey came to be a major cult figure in American baseball in general and in the world of the Anaheim Angels in particular.
But now here we are, a year after its debut, and there can be no doubt that the Rally Monkey has passed Lancelot Link, Curious George and even King Kong as America's most beloved monkey.
It's now a regular on Baseball Tonight, where its appearances are far more eagerly awaited than appearances by ESPN.com columnists.
It's such a staple of baseball in southern California that kids now go to games with their caps, their gloves and their stuffed Rally Monkeys.
And it seems inevitable at this point that some day real soon, we'll be seeing the first Planet of the Rally Monkeys full-length feature film.
"In fact," Murray told Week in Review, "we just received a post card from Israel that said: 'Having a great time — [signed] the Rally Monkey.' We have no idea who sent it. So I guess the Rally Monkey is now an international phenomenom."
Hey, it's about time, too. But before we pursue this angle further, we need to ask the No. 1 question Rally Monkey fans everywhere are asking. Which is: Why a monkey?
The answer, naturally, is simple.
"In the Rally Monkey auditions," Murray deadpanned, "the turtle wasn't animated enough."
Oh, all right. There was no turtle, really. And there were no auditions, really. This whole brilliant concept wasn't even cooked up by some ingenious Disney marketing team that spent weeks, months and years studying the perfect rally animal.
It was, naturally, a complete accident.
A Star is Born
It was just about a year ago, in fact, that Angels production manager Bob Castillo and his staff were, uh, monkeying around in the scoreboard room during a game, rummaging through their extensive film-clip library.
They came upon a snippet of a monkey hopping up and down. In a moment of crazed genius, they typed in the graphic, "Rally Monkey," and superimposed it over the monkey.
Next thing they knew, it was actually up there on the scoreboard. And, for reasons still unexplained by many panels of distinguished psychologists, the crowd had a sudden urge not to eat bananas but to go bananas.
Then, as this monkey buzz rippled through the park, Scott Spiezio stepped up and got a hit. So up on the board went the jumping Rally Monkey once again. Which was followed by (was there ever any doubt?) another hit.
The sequence then went: More monkey. More hits. More monkey. More hits. And a phenomenon was born.
But not just a marketing phenomenon. A baseball phenomenon.
In a Pinch? ‘Use The Monkey’
We never thought we'd hear a real coach for a real major-league baseball team utter this sentence, but Mickey Hatcher really did say: "I don't think we use The Monkey enough."
This is not to be confused with normal hitting-coach talk, like: "I don't think we use the whole field enough." This man actually said: "I don't think we use The Monkey enough."
But that's just because Mickey Hatcher is an astute observer of baseball life. It may be true that for more than 100 years, major-league baseball has been successfully played without any help from monkeys on the scoreboard. But in Orange County, Calif., a night without the Rally Monkey is now just about as empty as Disney Land without Mickey and Minnie.
"For me," Hatcher said, "it's not about winning and losing. It's about The Monkey. We've got 5,000 monkeys in the stands. And the nights we don't put it up there, people are saying, 'Where's The Monkey?' So break it out, man.
"Every time they put The Monkey up there, fans start pointing, laughing, getting into it. It gets loud. It gets crazy. And our hitters feed off the fans. When The Monkey gets them going, they get into that."
So Hatcher has actually complained to the Angels' powers that be — who like to save The Monkey for only big late-inning spots — that they need to show The Monkey more often than they have. But Murray says: "We don't want to overuse it. The Monkey's got a pretty good record."
Stats Back Up Monkey's Success
We then asked a question we never thought we'd ask any real-life baseball official: "You don't know The Monkey's record, do you?"
"Sure," Murray said. "We keep stats on The Monkey."
By "we," we're assuming he doesn't mean "the Elias Sports Bureau." But that didn't stop us from telling him: "We want The Monkey's stats."
Whereupon Murray said: "Hold on. I'll get them."
This, folks, was an actual conversation between an actual employee of ESPN and an actual major-league executive. It really happened. Not even the names have been changed to protect the innocent.
A few moments later, Murray was back to announce: "The Monkey is 9-5, in late-inning rally situations."
So the Rally Monkey has more wins this year than Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson or Greg Maddux. Makes you proud to be an American mammal. Doesn't it?
The Rally Monkey phenomenon has grown so huge that the Angels now are planning a spectacular Rally Monkey first-anniversary bash, complete with clips of Great Moments in Rally Monkey History.
"We'll put up a shot of Carlton Fisk's homer in the '75 Series, with The Monkey jumping up and down," Murray said. "Pretty much any shot of any great moment in baseball history, we can insert The Monkey.
"We're thinking of a VH2 'Behind The Monkey' piece, with footage of his father, Lancelot Link. And scenes from the Rally Monkey auditions, where we say, 'Before there was The Monkey, there was the Rally Brick, the Rally Turtle, the Rally Flea.' We'll show everybody going through the audition line. We're going to break out the raw footage nobody's seen."
Hatcher says his personal favorite monkey moment came a while back, when they filmed a bit together for the scoreboard — "and he jumped up on my shoulder and scared the hell out of me. Funny thing was, though, the damn thing acted better than I did."
At this point, though, this is no act. This is a real force in Angels life. So next on their agenda is a plot to find a way to use it to throw a monkey wrench into the path of a certain AL West team ahead of them in the standings.
"We're going to send a rally-killing baboon over to Seattle," Hatcher said, "see if that can slow them down."
And suppose the Angels get to the playoffs. Shouldn't the monkey get a ring?
"Well, he ought to get something," Hatcher said. "Maybe a bushel of bananas."