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Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2009

Klement’s Racing Sausages a Hit at Milwaukee Brewers Games

Ethnic mascots add another element to ballpark fun

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Since their first live appearance at a Milwaukee Brewers home game 15 years ago, the Klement’s Racing Sausages have been a lot of things to Milwaukee Brewers fans. At their core, the towering wieners are simply mascots representing Milwaukee’s own Klement's Sausage Co., but they’ve also become a happy distraction from a long game, a reason to place a friendly wager and a rallying point for Brewers baseball fans.

The sausages originally appeared as characters on the massive black-and-white electronic scoreboard in Milwaukee County Stadium. Three animated sausages—a bratwurst, a Polish sausage and an Italian sausage—would race through Milwaukee on their way to County Stadium as the theme song from Chariots of Fire played.

When the Brewers retired Robin Yount’s number on Sunday, May 29, 1994, the race began as it normally did, but ended like it never had before. Just before the electronic version of the three wieners were to cross the finish line on the scoreboard, the sausages appeared in physical form from the left-field fence—the bratwurst donning green Austro-Bavarian lederhosen, the Polish sausage sporting a blue-and-red rugby shirt and dark sunglasses, and the Italian sausage wearing a chef's outfit—and ran Milwaukee’s inaugural sausage race. Soon after, Klement’s bolstered the roster with a fourth sausage named Frankie Furter, a baseball-uniform-wearing hot dog. What began as a way to entertain kids during Sunday afternoon games became a huge hit among Brewers fans.

During the 2000 season—the final year the Brewers played at County Stadium—the virtual sausage race was sent to the big scoreboard in the sky and the sausages in physical form began to race before the bottom of the sixth inning at every Brewers home game.

From the stands, the hustling wieners don’t look particularly large, but up close their stature is a sight to behold. The oversized foam costumes measure 7 feet 3 inches high from the tip of the head to the knees of the runner wearing the costume. Employees of the Milwaukee Brewers or Miller Park are typically the chosen few allowed to participate in the race, but sometimes a ballplayer or special guest is allowed the opportunity for glory.

The sausage hit the fan in 2003 when the first baseman of the Pittsburgh Pirates smacked the Italian sausage in the head with a baseball bat as she was running past the visitors’ dugout. Though the swing didn’t make contact with the runner’s actual head, it did push the top-heavy costume past the tipping point and the sausage hit the ground, taking the hot dog down with her. The Polish sausage helped the Italian sausage to her feet and all four sausages finished the race. The player, who was arrested and paid a fine, was suspended by Major League Baseball for three games.

To celebrate Hispanic contributions to baseball and the Brewers’ growing Latino fan base, Klement’s expanded its roster to five with the signing of Cinco the chorizo sausage on Cerveceros (Spanish for “Brewers”) Day on July 29, 2006. But because of a Major League Baseball rule stating that a team cannot introduce a new mascot in the middle of the season, the chorizo and his big brown sombrero didn’t see regular playing time until the 2007 season.

What is it about these sausage mascots we find so appealing? Do they draw on our city’s ethnic pride? Is it, as perhaps Freud would say, simply an unconscious fascination with the phallus? Or is it those tiny human legs propelling that enormous sausage body? Whatever the reason, the sausages are loved. These five anthropomorphic wieners have transcended the realm of mere promotional ploy and have taken on an identity as one of Milwaukee’s favorite baseball rituals.