Pins of the Athletics Featuring an Elephant
How the Athletics came to have an elephant be the team logo is a story that dates back to the founding years of Major League Baseball. Benjamin Shibe was owner of the Philadelphia Athletics and Connie Mack served as manager and general manager. The Athletics were purchasing the contracts of National League players in creating the nascent American League. In 1902 John McGraw, manager of the New York Giants, stated the Athletics (through the actions of Shibe and Mack) had become a “White Elephant,” a derogatory term for something whose value was less than its cost. Rather than being dismissive of the term, Mack adopted the image of a white elephant as a symbol of his team. This stunning 1.75” pin and ribbon may be the first tangible memento linking the Philadelphia Athletics and the iconic “White Elephant” moniker celebrating the 1902 American League pennant (pre-World Series).
I could find no references to indicate Mack ever gave a name to the elephant. However, there was a fabled elephant in Philadelphia at the time. In 1888 the Philadelphia Zoo was given an enormous male Asian elephant by the Adam Forepaugh Circus. The name of the elephant was “Bolivar.” Bolivar had become too dangerous for the circus, despite being billed as its star attraction. It was reported Bolivar was ten feet tall and weighed 13,200 pounds. The elephant died in 1908 at an estimated age in its late 40s. Perhaps Philadelphia being the home of Bolivar for the last 20 years of its life contributed to Mack adopting the “White Elephant” as a symbol of his team. The following year the Athletics added the elephant logo to the team sweater.
It was reported that McGraw presented Mack with a stuffed toy white elephant animal before the start of the Giants-Athletics World Series in 1905. The Giants went on to win the World Series in five games with Mathewson pitching three complete game shut-outs. Although there are four pins for the 1905 American League champions, none feature an elephant. The elephant next appeared on a 1.75” pin celebrating the 1910 World Series champions. The featured player is Harry Davis.
In celebration of the 1911 World Series championship, head shots of the players (along with Mack) were presented against the image of an elephant in this 2.25” pin.
The pin for the 1913 World Series champions was only 7/8”. The tiny images are of Mack in the center, Davis on the right, and possibly Eddie Murphy on the left (although Murphy seems an unlikely candidate to represent a team with many star players).
A 1.25” pin promoting a cigar references the champion Philadelphia Athletics from an unknown year.
An oval mirror from the World Series champion 1929 team is the first to show the elephant with the letter “A.”
A plastic elephant began to be used as a dangle hanging beneath pins, this one from the 1931 World Series.
Instead of the usual balls and bats serving as dangles on team pins, the elephant was a unique adornment for the pins of the Philadelphia Athletics.
In later years the elephant appeared on pins now featuring the possessive “A’s” in red, on both lithograph and celluloid pins, and pins of different sizes.
Before the start of the 1955 season the Athletics franchise moved to Kansas City. The dominant color for the Philadelphia Athletics was blue, while for the Kansas City Athletics it was green. Nevertheless, some pins for the Kansas City Athletics featuring the elephant were made in blue, as represented by this 3.50” pin.
A series of baseball pins featuring both teams and individual players were made showing a small baseball at the 4:00 position. I have been able to date these pins from 1959 to 1964. A Kansas City Athletics pin with a blue background featuring an elephant and the small baseball reveals the team sold merchandise bearing the Philadelphia color long into its tenure in Kansas City.
Before the start of the 1963 season, the elephant was retired as the team mascot and was replaced with a mule. However, I can find no Kansas City Athletics pins featuring a mule. Before the start of the 1968 season the Athletics moved to Oakland. Although officially no longer the team mascot, a pin featuring the elephant was made welcoming the team to Oakland.
The elephant made a re-appearance in Oakland in the mid-1980s, and was given the name “Harry Elephante.” In 1998 the current incarnation of the elephant was introduced, and was named “Stomper.” No longer a white elephant, Stomper wears the green and gold colors of the Oakland Athletics. While this booster pin is from the Philadelphia years, it is emblematic of the enduring legacy of the elephant to the Athletics franchise.
Next up: An Unusual Pair of PM10 Player Pins