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The Best and Worst Minor League Stadium Promotions

The Peoria Chiefs, the Class A affiliate of the Chicago Cubs, joined the list of LeBron James' bashers when it staged a "LeBron James NBA Championship Replica Ring Giveaway" after the Dallas Mavericks defeated the Miami Heat for the NBA title.

There was no ring, of course.

The Chiefs claimed to explore the possibility of skipping the fourth inning to mirror James' disappearing act in the fourth quarters against Dallas.

Minor league baseball promotions are almost always creative. Many times they're hilarious. But this one didn't even rank with the best of the LeBron James Nights let alone make my Top 10 list.

Why?

Well, if you're an affiliate of the Chicago Cubs, who last won the World Series 102 years ago and pretty much own a trademark on the terms "Lovable Losers" and "June Swoon," you might want to think twice about making fun of somebody for not winning it all at age 26.

There's a fine line between promotions that work and promotions that reach too far. Three quick examples of the latter:

Ted Williams Popsicle Night

After the story broke in 2002 about the son of the great Boston slugger having his father's body cryogenically frozen in Arizona, the Bisbee-Douglas Copper Kings gave popsicles to the first 500 fans in a 2003 game.

Salute to Indoor Plumbing Night

The West Virginia Power had this idea to close the regular bathrooms and have fans use portable toilets to aid in the appreciation of indoor plumbing. The Health Department nixed it. But the promotion went on, complete with a version of a team's regular Hamburger Helper skillet toss.

"We took some brownies and mushed them up and made them look like poo," promotions director Kristin Call told the Washington Post. "It was a poo toss that night."

Michael Jordan Impostor Night

It wasn't billed that way.

The Utah Flash of the NBA Developmental League promoted a one-on-one grduge match between Michael Jordan and former Jazz player Byron Russell.

Jordan had trash-talked Russell at Jordan's Hall of Fame induction. Russell challenged him to a game of one-on-one with the winner's pot ($100,000) going to charity.

Except Jordan never responded and Flash owner Brandt Anderson continued the charade anyway by trotting out a Jordan look-alike. You can guess how that went over. Anderson had to refund people's money.

The best of minor league promotions are funny. At the very least they should do no harm.

(And, of course, since I'm from Cleveland and it's my list, at least one should poke at LeBron James)

10. 1K Backwards Race
The Charleston RiverDogs raised money for charity by holding a backwards race around the warning track (three laps). Who could be expected to cover .62 miles without an aid station? The RiverDogs set up a beer "hydration" stand at the halfway point. Prizes were awarded to the most leisurely competitor and the one with the biggest beer belly.

9. Salute to Cows
The minor-league baseball Wisconsin Timber Rattlers staged several contests, including a mooing competition. A lucky fan received a year's supply of cheese curds. The video board headshots of Timber Rattlers' players? Yep. All sported milk mustaches.

8. Billy Donovan Night
The Fort Myers Miracle had fun with University of Florida basketball coach Billy Donovan leaving the school to coach the Orlando Magic, then reversing his decision. The Miracle served waffles. Fans could get their ticket money back if they didn't feel sufficiently entertained, but only after negotiating a deal with a local lawyer that included having to make a free throw. Somebody named Billy Donovan was asked to throw out the first pitch but changed his mind and didn't show.

7. Rod Blagojevich Prison Jersey Night
This one came from the world of minor league hockey. The Las Vegas Wranglers wore gray and black prison striped jerseys with "ILLGOV" on them. The opponent, the Bakersfield Condors, wore orange prison garb. There were bars on the penalty box. My favorite part: The referees wore blue prison guard uniforms.

Footnote: In a 2006 game, the Wranglers held Dick Cheney Hunting Vest Night.

6. 50th Anniversary Salute to Bubble Wrap
The Lowell (Ma.) Spinners handed out squares of Bubble Wrap and asked fans to simultaneously pop it in the third inning. The 3,692 squares of popped Bubble Wrap wasn't recognized as a world record, but Guinness did recognize the Spinners-sponsored world's largest game of "Duck, Duck, Goose" held in 2004 when 432 people participated.

5. Circle of Life Weekend
Quad Cities covered birth (a night for expectant mothers), school (a one-year scholarship to the University of Iowa), marriage (an all-expenses paid wedding) and death (an all-expenses paid funeral) in one long weekend of baseball.

There were on-site Lamaze classes and concession stands stocked with things pregnant ladies crave.

"We want our fans to know that cradle to grave the River Bandits have you covered," Quad Cities owner Dave Heller said in a press release.

4. Backstabbers Night
The Augusta (Ga.) GreenJackets held a LeBron James roast 10 days after he announced via "The Decision" on ESPN that he was leaving the area where he grew up to join the Miami Heat.

Anyone with a Ohio driver's license got in free. They got a seat in a section staffed by a grief counselor.

James was inducted in the Backstabbers Hall of Fame, joining Brutus, Judas, Benedict Arnold, football coach Nick Saban and others.

Baby back ribs were for sale in the concession stands. Manager Dave Machemer announced on live TV where he was going to dinner that night.

3. Redundancy Night
The Altoona Curve has paid tribute over the years to Brett Favre's retirement pledges, Pittsburgh Steelers' Super Bowl wins, vagabond coach Larry Brown's introductory press conferences and the string of non-title seasons for Cleveland sports teams.

Identical twins get in free. So do people from New York, NY, Jersey City, NJ, Kansas City, KS and Virginia Beach, Va. And people with similar sounding first and last names. "That goes for you, Dave Davies," the press release reads.

Everything is announced twice, including players coming up to bat.

2. Spam Carving Night
The Reading Phillies raise money for charity with a competition for closet spam carvers (you know who you are).

Knives and toothpicks are supplied, though contestants can bring their own carving tools. (We pause here to consider a team on a long losing streak watching fans file into the park hoisting knives and chainsaws.)

A 2009 entry -- Demon Dog -- looks like an alien Schnauzer.

The team's press release says "exposure to elements will quickly transform Spam's appealing pink-tinged luster to a distressingly monochrome shade of brown."

Don't get them wrong. It looks like a Rodin sculpture compared to what the West Virginia Power have cooking in their skillets.

1. Awful Night
The Altoona Curve give an awful promotional item (a noisemaker for instance) to the first 1,000 fans.

Awful Nights -- yes, plural -- have included bottomless cups, music from David Hasselhoff and William Shatner, a helium balloon toss, a Dry Water Slide Contest, a non-celebrity autograph session and clips from Ben Affleck movies.

There is a fireworks display. On the video board.

In a 2004 game, the Curve players got in the spirit of the evening by giving up five runs in the top of the ninth and losing to the Akron Aeros.

Not on purpose apparently.

Bud Shaw is a columnist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer who has also written for the Philadelphia Daily News, San Diego Union-Tribune, Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The National. You can read his Plain Dealer columns at Cleveland.com, and read all his mental_floss articles here.

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Dodo: © Oxford University, Oxford University Museum of Natural History. Background: iStock
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science
Head Case: What the Only Soft Tissue Dodo Head in Existence Is Teaching Scientists About These Extinct Birds
Dodo: © Oxford University, Oxford University Museum of Natural History. Background: iStock
Dodo: © Oxford University, Oxford University Museum of Natural History. Background: iStock

Of all the recently extinct animals, none seems to excite the imagination quite like the dodo—a fact Mark Carnall has experienced firsthand. As one of two Life Collections Managers at the UK's Oxford University Museum of Natural History, he’s responsible for nearly 150,000 specimens, “basically all the dead animals excluding insects and fossils,” he tells Mental Floss via email. And that includes the only known soft tissue dodo head in existence.

“In the two and a bit years that I’ve been here, there’s been a steady flow of queries about the dodo from researchers, artists, the public, and the media,” he says. “This is the third interview about the dodo this week! It’s definitely one of the most popular specimens I look after.”

The dodo, or Raphus cucullatus, lived only on the island of Mauritius (and surrounding islets) in the Indian Ocean. First described by Vice Admiral Wybrand van Warwijck in 1598, it was extinct less than 100 years later (sailors' tales of the bird, coupled with its rapid extinction, made many doubt that the dodo was a real creature). Historians still debate the extent that humans ate them, but the flightless birds were easy prey for the predators, including rats and pigs, that sailors introduced to the isolated island of Mauritius. Because the dodo went extinct in the 1600s (the actual date is still widely debated), museum specimens are very, very rare. In fact, with the exception of subfossils—the dark skeletons on display at many museums—there are only three other known specimens, according to Carnall, “and one of those is missing.” (The fully feathered dodos you might have seen in museums? They're models, not actual zoological specimens.)

A man standing with a Dodo skeleton and a reconstructed model of the extinct bird
A subfossil (bone that has not been fully fossilized) Dodo skeleton and a reconstructed model of the extinct bird in a museum in Wales circa 1938.
Becker, Fox Photos/Getty Images

Since its extinction was confirmed in the 1800s, Raphus cucullatus has been an object of fascination: It’s been painted and drawn, written about and scientifically studied, and unfairly become synonymous with stupidity. Even now, more than 300 years since the last dodo walked the Earth, there’s still so much we don’t know about the bird—and Oxford’s specimen might be our greatest opportunity to unlock the mysteries surrounding how it behaved, how it lived, how it evolved, and how it died.

 
 

To put into context how old the dodo head is, consider this: From the rule of Oliver Cromwell to the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, it has been around—and it’s likely even older than that. Initially an entire bird (how exactly it was preserved is unclear), the specimen belonged to Elias Ashmole, who used his collections to found Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum in 1677. Before that, it belonged to John Tradescant the Elder and his son; a description of the collection from 1656 notes the specimen as “Dodar, from the Island Mauritius; it is not able to flie being so big.”

And that’s where the dodo’s provenance ends—beyond that, no one knows where or when the specimen came from. “Where the Tradescants got the dodo from has been the subject of some speculation,” Carnall says. “A number of live animals were brought back from Mauritius, but it’s not clear if this is one of [those animals].”

Initially, the specimen was just another one of many in the museum’s collections, and in 1755, most of the body was disposed of because of rot. But in the 19th century, when the extinction of the dodo was confirmed, there was suddenly renewed interest in what remained. Carnall writes on the museum’s blog that John Duncan, then the Keeper of the Ashmolean Museum, had a number of casts of the head made, which were sent to scientists and institutions like the British Museum and Royal College of Surgeons. Today, those casts—and casts of those casts—can be found around the world. (Carnall is actively trying to track them all down.)

The Oxford University Dodo head with scoleric bone and the skin on one side removed.
The Oxford University Dodo head with skin and sclerotic ring.
© Oxford University, Oxford University Museum of Natural History // Used with permission

In the 1840s, Sir Henry Acland, a doctor and teacher, dissected one side of the head to expose its skeleton, leaving the skin attached on the other side, for a book about the bird by Alexander Gordon Melville and H.E. Strickland called The dodo and its kindred; or, The history, affinities, and osteology of the dodo, solitaire, and other extinct birds of the islands Mauritius, Rodriguez and Bourbon. Published in 1848, “[It] brought together all the known accounts and depictions of the dodo,” Carnall says. The Dodo and its kindred further raised the dodo’s profile, and may have been what spurred schoolteacher George Clark to take a team to Mauritius, where they found the subfossil dodo remains that can be seen in many museums today.

Melville and Strickland described Oxford’s specimen—which they believed to be female—as being “in tolerable preservation ... The eyes still remain dried within the sockets, but the corneous extremity of the beak has perished, so that it scarcely exhibits that strongly hooked termination so conspicuous in all the original portraits. The deep transverse grooves are also visible, though less developed than in the paintings.”

Today, the specimen includes the head as well as the sclerotic ring (a bony feature found in the eyes of birds and lizards), a feather (which is mounted on a microscope slide), tissue samples, the foot skeleton, and scales from the foot. “Considering it’s been on display in collections and museums, pest eaten, dissected, sampled and handled by scientists for over 350 years,” Carnall says, “it’s in surprisingly good condition.”

 
 

There’s still much we don’t know about the dodo, and therefore a lot to learn. As the only soft tissue of a dodo known to exist, the head has been studied for centuries, and not always in ways that we would approve of today. “There was quite some consideration about dissecting the skin off of the head by Sir Henry Acland,” Carnall says. “Sadly there have also been some questionable permissions given, such as when [Melville] soaked the head in water to manipulate the skin and feel the bony structure. Excessive handling over the years has no doubt added to the wear of the specimen.”

Today, scientists who want to examine the head have to follow a standard protocol. “The first step is to get in touch with the museum with details about access requirements ... We deal with enquiries about our collections every single day,” Carnall says. “Depending on the study required, we try to mitigate damage and risk to specimens. For destructive sampling—where a tissue sample or bone sample is needed to be removed from the specimen and then destroyed for analysis—we weigh up the potential importance of the research and how it will be shared with the wider community.”

In other words: Do the potential scientific gains outweigh the risk to the specimen? “This,” Carnall says, “can be a tough decision to make.”

The head, which has been examined by evolutionary biologist Beth Shapiro and extinction expert Samuel Turvey as well as dodo experts Julian Hume and Jolyon Parish, has been key in many recent discoveries about the bird. “[It] has been used to understand what the dodo would have looked like, what it may have eaten, where it fits in with the bird evolutionary tree, island biogeography and of course, extinction,” Carnall says. In 2011, scientists took measurements from dodo remains—including the Oxford specimen—and revised the size of the bird from the iconic 50 pounder seen in paintings to an animal “similar to that of a large wild turkey.” DNA taken from specimen’s leg bone has shed light on how the dodo came to Mauritius and how it was related to other dodo-like birds on neighboring islands [PDF]. That DNA also revealed that the dodo’s closest living relative is the Nicobar pigeon [PDF].

A nicobar pigeon perched on a bowl of food.
A nicobar pigeon.
iStock

Even with those questions answered, there are a million more that scientists would like to answer about the dodo. “Were there other species—plants, parasites—that depended on the dodo?” Carnall asks. “What was the soft tissue like? ... How and when did the dodo and the related and also extinct Rodrigues solitaire colonize the Mascarene Islands? What were their brains like?”

 
 

Though it’s a rare specimen, and priceless by scientific standards, the dodo head is, in many ways, just like all the rest of the specimens in the museum’s collections. It’s stored in a standard archival quality box with acid-free tissue paper that’s changed regularly. (The box is getting upgraded to something that Carnall says is “slightly schmancier” because “it gets quite a bit of use, more so than the rest of the collection.”) “As for the specific storage, we store it in vault 249 and obviously turn the lasers off during the day,” Carnall jokes. “The passcode for the vault safe is 1234ABCD …”

According to Carnall, even though there are many scientific and cultural reasons why the dodo head is considered important, to him, it isn’t necessarily more important than any of the other 149,999 specimens he’s responsible for.

“Full disclosure: All museum specimens are equally important to collections managers,” he says. “It is a huge honor and a privilege to be responsible for this one particular specimen, but each and every specimen in the collection also has the power to contribute towards our knowledge of the natural world ... This week I was teaching about a species of Greek woodlouse and the molluscs of Oxfordshire. We know next to nothing about these animals—where they live, what they eat, the threats to them, and the predators that rely on them. The same is true of most living species, sadly. But on the upside, there’s so much work to be done!”

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