It’s one of those events so momentous that everyone knows where they were when it happened – but a purely Milwaukee version: July 9, 2003, the day Pittsburgh Pirate Randall Simon hit one of the Klement’s Racing Sausages with a bat, making a tube-meat tangle out of the back end of that day’s iconic race.
That whack ignited a firestorm. Simon was questioned by police and ultimately fined by the city for disorderly conduct. He was fined and suspended by Major League Baseball. The young woman in the Italian sausage suit, Mandy Wagner, became a hot interview around the country for a few days but then disappeared.
Now, she’s opened back up about the incident – and the way perception of it spiraled out of control – in a story by MLB.com‘s Matt Monagan with the headline “18 years later, the fallen Sausage speaks.” (I clicked on it expecting a story about my colleague, Archer Parquette.)
The top-line takeaway from this fascinating oral history – you really must click that link – is that Wagner was fine, that she and Simon were fine, and that she shut down all the news organizations seeking interviews because she saw the story taking on a life of its own far from its reality.
It’s easy to see how the distortions began. It looked pretty bad in the grainy video that aired on the Brewers broadcast, with Wagner and the hot dog to her left tumbling to the infield warning track.
Brewers TV color commentator Bill Schroeder set the tone for what would become the national outrage with his, first, description of the sausage pileup, which was shown from three angles: “One of the Pirates slugged the Italian with a bat. I don’t know how smart that is to do that, there’s a real human being in there,” Schroeder said, punctuating the commentary with a trademark “Goodness.” He continued: “That is, uh, kind of dangerous, huh?”
His partner Matt Vasgersian continued jauntily: “I would have been a little more on my soapbox if I’d seen that, I don’t know what I was looking at. Smoked him! So, look out, running pierogis, when we get to Pittsburgh.”
The thing is, the human being in that suit was fine. She was already plenty wobbly in the 7-foot-tall suit, she told MLB.com, and didn’t even know that she’d been struck down. It didn’t take much to knock her off her feet. “I don’t know when the bat hit it, it was kinda behind me,” Wagner told Monagan. “I just fell. I literally thought I fell on my own accord.”
Simon, a journeyman pinch-hit/DH guy who was toward the tail end of an eight-season career, took the worst of it, becoming a villain in a story that burned pretty hot for several days. But Wagner never harbored any ill will toward Simon and believed his comments afterward that he had no malicious intent. “C’mon, we’re dressed as giant sausages!” Wagner told Monagan. “It’s supposed to be funny. Of course, I get it. … It was a tap, he was surprised I fell. He tried to help me up, but they don’t show that part.” Simon even sent her the notorious bat – autographed, natch – which is probably one of the most desirable pieces of Milwaukee sports memorabilia of the 21st century.
But … how did this race, the most famous running of the Famous Racing Sausages, end? The winner was the bratwurst, powered by a 16-year-old boy running his first sausage race. “He looked back and was like, ‘Cool,'” Wagner recalled. “I mean, he didn’t know what to do. Someone had to win this.”