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The most recognizable mascot in baseball got a makeover. Revealed in advance of a spring training game on Sunday, the Phillie Phanatic now sports a slightly different color, body shape, outfit and facial features.

After first licensing the costume in the late 1970s from Muppet designers Bonnie Erickson, Wayde Harrison and their company Harrison/Erickson for less than $6,000, the franchise purchased the copyright outright in 1984 for $215,000.

However, federal law provides that artists can renegotiate and even sever copyright transfer 35 years after assigning it away.

With this 35-year deadline coming due last summer, the Phillies began a legal and public relations campaign, claiming that Erickson and Harrison were trying to extort large sums in order to keep the Phanatic from becoming a “free agent.”

The team countered by saying that the copyright itself does not apply to the character as it exists today, because, as VP David Buck said, “Over the past 40 years, the Phanatic has evolved.”

Philly fans love to argue, so there’s little question there’ll be ongoing debate over the character’s new look. But there’s a more fundamental takeaway from the changes, which were likely spurred by a pending court battle over the Phillies’ expiring copyright on the fuzzy green creature:

The Phillie Phanatic is not a bird. It’s a dinosaur.

The official bio on the team’s website describes the mascot‘s provenance simply as being from the Galapagos islands, with no mention of bird-ness. Erickson, the co-creator of the original costume who with her husband is entangled in the current copyright fight, has said it’s “a purely fantasy animal.” But pop culture has recently taken to describing the Phanatic as a “flightless bird.”

The Phillies appear to be leaning into that descriptor. After Sunday’s reveal, the Phanatic jumped up on its four-wheeler and attempted unsuccessfully to fly.

Scientifically speaking, however, birds are descendants of dinosaurs. And as part of the new design, the mascot now has a ridge of scales lining the underside of each arm.

This leads to the conclusion that the Phanatic is best described as an enantiornithean, as noted by Twitter user @historiancole.

New scales, rounder snout, bigger backside

A what? Enantiornithines are extinct avialans — aka birdlike dinosaurs — that look almost like our modern feathered friends but with claws at the end of each wing. Indeed, another facet of the Phanatic’s new look is furless fingers tucked below the green shag that extends along its arms.

Another notable bodily change in favor of the dino theory is the mascot’s shorter, more stubby nose. While birds have pointed beaks, dinosaurs had rounder snouts.

Other new features, as noted by 97.5 The Fanatic’s Marc Farzetta, include:

  • Overall fur is lighter green
  • Pink stars and fuller, lighter blue tufts behind eyes
  • New colors for socks and sneakers, which now have painted laces instead of real ties
  • Solid blue tail

Also modified is the shape of the mascot’s midsection. From the front, it looks like the Phanatic has lost a few pounds, which led to a lot of speculation as to whether its signature belly-pelvic thrust would be as effective. From the profile view, however, you can see the weight has simply been shifted into its tail end.

The Phanatic’s conical backside does look a little bit like a chicken — but is also reminiscent of a dinosaur. A study done by paleontologists around 2002 concluded that yes, the T-rex probably had a very big butt.

Whether all these changes will help the Phillies in their court case remains to be seen.

Danya Henninger is director and editor of Billy Penn at WHYY, where she oversees the team, all editorial decisions, and all revenue generation — including the membership program. She is a former food...