The employee who flipped off fans while dressed as the Mr. Met mascot on Thursday night was not in fact fired, as was widely reported, but merely reassigned to a different job within the organization, according to a person familiar with the matter.
It was unclear what Mr. Met was responding to, but Mets officials were not amused by the mascot breaking character. Mr. Met’s personality is supposed to be fun and bubbly, providing young fans with family-friendly entertainment; he typically walks around the stands during games, waves to kids, and accompanies the team on goodwill tours around the city to children’s hospitals and firehouses.
Mr. Met has been allowed to have some off-color emotions, as in SportsCenter ads where Mrs. Met accused him of ogling a female sportscaster and when he confronted outfielder Josh Hamilton for clobbering some of his fellow baseballs during the 2008 Home Run Derby. However, he is not allowed to get angry at fans, and certainly not allowed to flip them the bird.
“We apologize for the inappropriate action of this employee,” the Mets said in a statement. “We do not condone this type of behavior. We are dealing with this matter internally.”
When he emerged, he was wearing his giant baseball head.
The headlines that followed suggested the misbehaving Mr. Met was out of a job entirely. “Mr. Met fired: Mascot canned after flipping off fan,” wrote Sports Illustrated. “Frustrated Mr. Met gives fan the finger, employee fired,” said Fox News. “Mr. Met Fired for Flipping Fans the Bird,” said DNAinfo. These stories relied on Associated Press reporting that accurately said the employee was simply no longer allowed to play Mr. Met, but the message was lost in the headline. (Sports Illustrated has since corrected its headline.) The Mets declined to comment on their reasons for disciplining, but not firing the employee.
Reporting that someone has been fired when in fact, they haven’t, would normally be an open-and-shut case of libel. The employee under the Mr. Met costume has not been identified, however, limiting the potential damage to his or her reputation. That is because the Mets, like many teams, fiercely guard their mascots’ identities. I was once kept by security out of the green room at SNY, the Mets-owned network for whom I worked, because Mr. Met was changing. This secrecy is designed to keep an air of mystery around the characters (think Santa Claus, or Mickey Mouse). Celebrities would routinely come in for guest appearances on shows, but Mr. Met was the only visitor I can ever remember who blocked out the green room. When he emerged, he was wearing his giant baseball head.
The Mets said that approximately three unnamed people wear the Mr. Met costume each season. Of course, the team could put the offending Mr. Met back into rotation and no one would ever know.