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Saturday, November 4, 2023

Mal Fichman's remembered for in-game mascot disguise, but career was much more

Mal Fichman 1990 Erie Sailors card

Late in the 1987 season, Mal Fichman's Boise Hawks took a loss, one so bad he called his team out for quitting, publicly, The Spokane Chronicle wrote. He even started walking back to the team hotel to avoid the bus.

But they they came back and won a gutsy performance the next night and Fichman couldn't help but be pleased, The Chronicle wrote.

"They were pumped," Fichman explained to The Chronicle of the win. "They were trying to stick it up my rear end. And you know what? They're gonna try to do it again tomorrow. And I hope they do."

The entire incident marked one colorful moment in a long minor league career of colorful moments for Fichman. 

But it was still hardly a comparison to the incident for which he is best remembered. The time two seasons later when an ejected Fichman returned to the field disguised as the team's mascot.

Fichman's long career in baseball began in the 1960s in various jobs with minor league clubs.

He got his start in his 20s, as a general manager. His stories, even then, caught the eye of publications. A Cincinnati Enquirer columnist devoted an entire column to Fichman in December 1969, about Fichman's time as general manager of the California League's Bakersfield Dodgers, at age 27.

Fichman's stories he relayed to The Enquirer then included a clumsy initial interview with the Pirates (he got the job), sleeping on the team bus (under seats and in the overhead rack) and learning, of all things, how to knit (a sweater). 

"One day out at the ball park," Fichman told The Enquirer columnist, "I was sitting in the stands and saw that a lot of players' wives were knitting. I figured that knitting might not be a bad idea on those bus rides. After all, I could make some nice things and save myself some money."

By 1972, he was general manager with the Memphis Blues. In 1977, Fichman served as a team general manager, with the Indians' AA team. 

He soon turned to managing - and independent teams. He managed at short-season Newark in 1979, and then helped bring an independent team to Rocky Mount, N.C. for 1980.

By 1985, he was general manager of the independent Florida State League Miami Marlins.

He arrived at independent Boise by 1987 and ultimately stayed for three seasons. It was in late-June in his third season that he had his legendary mascot incident. Tossed from the game and upset with the umpiring, he found the mascot, put on the costume and secretly returned to the field.

"It was a circus, so I figured I might as well join the damn thing," Fichman, who was suspended one game over the incident, told The Spokane Spokesman-Review days later.

Fichman moved to manage at independent short-season Erie for 1990 and independent Reno in 1991. In 1995, it was independent Johnstown. His Johnstown stop included a story where he set a black undershirt on fire because of a loss and he didn't like the color due to past losses.

Back in June 1989 - days before the mascot game, Fichman defended independent baseball to a Idaho Statesman columnist, who'd suggested Boise needed a player development contract with a major league club.

Players stayed around longer for fans, teams had better control over multiple aspects, including whether they even had a team, Fichman told The Statesman columnist.

"I read your article," the columnist recounted of Fichman's initial reaction. "Sometime when you've got some free time I'll give you the other side of the story. I'll tell you why Boise should never, ever have a player-development contract."

Fichman continued as an independent team manager through 1999, then became a scout for the Mets, Padres and Phillies.

He ultimately settled in the Boise area - and continued to defend his Hawks, then affiliated. He wrote a letter to the editor in The Statesman criticizing the paper's lack of coverage as the Hawks took over first place.

But the incident was so memorable that caught up with him more than 30 years later, in January 2020, to recount it.

"If everybody who says they were there at that game in Boise was actually there, we probably would have set an attendance record for the Daytona 500," Fichman told "I could walk outside today and tell people I know how to put a man on the moon and no one will say anything. They'll just tell me about the mascot costume."

Mal Fichman 1990 Erie Sailors card

1990 Minor League Tally 
Players/Coaches Featured:4,253
Made the Majors:1,385-32.6%
Never Made Majors:2,868-67.4%-X
5+ Seasons in the Majors:562
10+ Seasons in the Minors:347

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