Last month the dog lovers of the baseball world (which, that should be all of you, yes?) learned some things: that there is a World Dog Awards, that the Dog of the Year is presented with a trophy called the Golden Hydrant, and that for 2016, the winner was none other than everyone's favorite Very Good Baseball Dog, Hank the Ballpark Pup. Except, no, it wasn't really Hank the Ballpark Pup at all. As some of you may know, the dog that has been paraded in front of us as Hank over the past year or so is, in fact*, an impostor. While some of the more gullible among you may have been deceived, about half of my Twitter followers are wise to the act:
conspiracy theory twitter poll: did hank die and get replaced by an impostor?— travis sarandos (@travis_mke) February 28, 2016
This is not a brand new rumor, though if you don't spend your time around much of Brewers Twitter it may be new to you. Derek and I tried to trace back the roots of this theory, and everything seems to lead back to Twitter user @akschaaf, who in addition to igniting the Replacement Hank theory is the president of the Rickie Weeks Fan Club. Here's his tweet from last December, which is one of the earliest mentions of this theory that I could find:
Let's just acknowledge its a different dog and move on pic.twitter.com/q93Mdtg7JN— akschaaf (@akschaaf) December 11, 2015
But you don't need to take my word, or the word of some folks on Twitter dot com, for it. Let's go to the evidence.
Now, there is nothing wrong with the new Hank. Hank II is, like his predecessor, a Very Good Baseball Dog. But do not lie to me and try to tell me that the dog on the left and the dog on the right are the same dog. The coloring in the face and the ears is all wrong, the face isn't shaped the same way, and his ears don't lay in the same spot. They didn't just dunk him in a bucket of bleach and poof him up a bit. These are different dogs, folks.
None of this was necessary. The real Hank had been adopted by a family, and the Brewers have created a whole mess of memorabilia you can buy at the ballpark. The actual animal is now represented at the park by this large man in a costume, making him Milwaukee's eighth current costumed mascot, in case you're keeping score at home. We didn't need a replacement Hank. What we have is fine, and we all know dogs don't live forever.
There have been plenty of instances in which live animals have sparked a team's fire and driven them to unexpected results. Perhaps the most classic baseball example is that of the Rally Monkey, a white-haired capuchin monkey named Katie who danced to House of Pain's "Jump Around" on the video scoreboard at Angel Stadium of Anaheim (yes, just like the team's official name, the stadium is actually called that). Katie appeared with the Angels trailing the Giants 5-0 in the bottom of the 7th inning of a potentially decisive Game 6 in the 2002 World Series. The Angels immediately put up six unanswered runs to win the game, then went on to clinch the world championship two days later. If I felt like making you angry, I could talk about the Cardinals and their thrice damned Rally Squirrel, but I love you so I won't.
This leads us to Hank, who of course was a stray dog that turned up at Maryvale Baseball Park during 2014 Spring Training. The Brewers were picked by most pundits to finish a distant third that year, behind the evergreen Cardinals and the Reds. Yeah, those Reds. Heavens to Betsy, 2014 was a long damn time ago. Instead, the Brewers came out like a house afire, winning 20 of their first 27 games and holding the league's best record for most of the first half of the season. If it seems silly to you to attribute Milwaukee's flaming hot start to the appearance of Hank the Ballpark Pup, it isn't at all, just trust me, you are wrong. It was Hank's fault.
The Brewers entered July with the National League's best record at 51-33 and held a 6.5 game lead over St. Louis before the wheels fell off. They lost 10 of their next 11 games and their lead in the NL Central evaporated. A month later, they went on another 1-13 skid and by the time September 9th rolled around, the Brewers were just three games over .500 and trailed the Cardinals by six games. What happened? How could a team that was so dominant, and clearly had a Very Good Baseball Dog on their side, suddenly forget how to win? You know what happened.
Hank the Ballpark Pup died on June 30, 2014. With their canine friend gone to chase unlimited ethereal squirrels in doggie heaven, the Brewers have collapsed on the field. They are 99-141 in a season and a half's worth of games since that date. While I adore the new dog for what he is, I love and miss the real Hank the Ballpark Pup. Rest in peace, buddy.