- Doug Williams
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It’s the Rally Monkey’s 12th birthday on Wednesday, but don’t expect the Los Angeles Angels to bake a banana cake for their primary primate.
R. Monkey’s first appearance on June 6, 2000, is just a fact, not anything to wildly jump up and down about before or during Wednesday’s game against the visiting Seattle Mariners.
“No, we don’t celebrate the anniversary,” says Peter Bull, the Angels’ manager of entertainment and production. “We did once, after the first anniversary, and we got killed that game, so we thought, ‘No, we won’t do that anymore.’”
Bull certainly would know. He was there for R.M.’s coming-out party a dozen years ago and has been in his position since 1999, coordinating in-game entertainment at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, including the monkey’s appearances on the stadium video board.
The Rally Monkey has been a part of the franchise since his debut -- “It has a life of its own,” Bull says -- but this season marks the 10th anniversary of his leap into legend.
Ten years ago, the Angels were comeback kings, rebounding from a 6-14 season start to win the American League wild card, sweep aside the Yankees and Twins in the playoffs and then rally from a 3-2 series deficit to beat the San Francisco Giants in the World Series.
When the Rally Monkey appeared late in games that season (only when the Angels were trailing or tied), the team went 24-16.
In the World Series, Monkey magic was at its peak as the Angels -- down 5-0 in the seventh inning of Game 6 -- rallied to win 6-5 amid a crescendo of red-clad, ThunderStix-wielding fans.
Nationally, the Rally Monkey became as much a part of the postseason telecasts and Angels storylines as Troy Glaus, Tim Salmon and Francisco Rodriguez. TV cameras focused on monkey-waving fans and homemade signs in the stands, such as “Fear the Monkey,” “Believe in the power of the Rally Monkey” and “Got Monkey?”
Ten years after the team’s only World Series, the Angels' cast has changed -- new ownership, new players and even new stadium name (goodbye, Edison International Field) -- but the monkey remains.
“The crowd reacts just the same way as before, with just as much energy,” Bull says of the monkey’s appearances. “People still bring monkeys in and they react to it. Really, in terms of its effect and the fans’ energy and support of it, it’s pretty much the same.”
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The rules, too, remain the same. The Rally Monkey will not appear until the sixth inning or later of a game in which the Angels are tied or trail by four runs or fewer.
“Got to set him up for success, of course,” Bull says.
So, though the monkey remains a part of Angels tradition, he’s not visible at every game. There are no monkey statues or monkey murals in the stadium. He has his place. He’s behind the scenes, waiting.
“The Rally Monkey isn’t something we put at the forefront as kind of our brand image,” Bull says. “It’s a piece of us. It has its place during a game, but we’re not all about putting the monkey on the board all game long, every game. It has its place, just like a closer has his place coming into a ballgame. ...
“It’s kind of a signal, it’s a belief that the Angels can come back in any situation. So if that gets the fans into the game to scream more than maybe they normally would, to provide more positive energy, then that’s a positive thing.
“Ultimately it’s about baseball, it’s about the team on the field. They’re the guys that get the job done.”
If the team is winning, there’s no need. If it’s trailing late, a certain anticipation builds for the monkey’s appearance. Melendez remembers how the energy level in the stadium would explode when the monkey appeared in 2002.
“That was the incredible part of it,” Melendez says. “You’d see him come on the big JumboTron and you kind of just felt the energy.”
The reason the Rally Monkey caught on, though, was because the Angels won.
“That might have been the biggest reason for his success,” says Melendez, still a die-hard Halos fan who runs his site and watches every game from his home in Helena, Mont. “Had they brought him out and nothing had occurred, I’m sure he would have gone the way of many other mascots and other devices that teams use to garner that type of excitement.”
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Instead, the monkey flourished.
Major League Baseball has licensed plush monkeys in the colors and uniforms of other teams. Fans who looked down their noses at the Angels’ lucky monkey 10 years ago can now buy one at their own home park or on the Web.
The Angels’ Rally Monkey has appeared in TV commercials, been displayed in the Baseball Hall of Fame and remains a topic of player conversation. This spring, when talking about the Dodgers-Angels interleague series, Dodgers star Matt Kemp told the Associated Press, “I don’t like the Rally Monkey. I’m scared of the Rally Monkey. You’re out there in the outfield and the monkey just pops up on the screen. That’s kind of scary.”
Five years after his Twins lost to the Angels in the 2002 ALCS, outfielder Torii Hunter produced a Rally Monkey at the news conference to announce his signing with the Angels, and called him his “new best friend.”
“This Rally Monkey has been a thorn in my side and in my nightmares, so I’m just happy to be a part of this organization and be a part of the monkey,” he told reporters.
In a way, Bull says he’s not surprised R.M. is still going strong 12 years after his debut.
“We knew at the time it was something special,” he says. “We just had a feeling.”
Which brings us to that first night, June 6, 2000.
There have been various accounts about how the Rally Monkey came to be, and who came up with the concept. Bull, who was directing the game that night, calls the monkey’s emergence “a collective thing,” not the brainchild of any one individual.
The Angels were trailing the Giants in an interleague game that night, and Bull was monitoring the videos on his preview monitor, so he could see and approve anything to be shown. He saw the next clip was of a jumping monkey, a clip often used (among others) when the team scored.
“And I mentioned when I saw it, ‘Oh you have the monkey on a standby.’ I didn’t mean Rally Monkey. The director at the time, who was Dean Fraulino, said, ‘Yeah, that’s a rally monkey.’ Another operator in the room said, ‘I can put some text over it and just say 'Rally Monkey.' Why don’t we just play it now?' We were joking, basically. And because of the fact that the game was out of hand, you kind of feel, what the heck, what could it hurt? You throw the kitchen sink out there to amuse yourselves almost -- although we should never do that, just to amuse ourselves,” he adds, laughing.
“We’d gotten a runner on before we put it up there, so we threw this monkey jumping up and down on the video board with text over it that said ‘Rally Monkey.’ We just threw it out there. The batter, I believe, got a hit, so we decided to throw it up there again, just because. The team rallied a little bit, scored a run or two that inning, it was just a funny thing.
“The next inning came around and we’re like, ‘Let’s just keep doing this. It seems to be working.’ Sort of superstition. Once you try something and it works, you just keep doing it.
“Fast forward to the ninth inning, we’re still down. Robb Nen, the Giants closer at the time, hadn’t blown a save all year and we just continued to run this monkey between batters, sometimes between pitches, and we came back and beat the Giants that day.”
Bull remembers they thought they’d stumbled on something special in that 6-5 win, but didn’t realize to what degree. The next game, the monkey appeared again and the Angels scored in the bottom of the eighth to win 10-9.
By the morning after the first win, Bull says the Angels started to get calls from fans about monkeys.
“Our merchandise person said, ‘Why did somebody call me that says he’s got plush monkey dolls for us if we want to buy them?’ So I explained to him what it was, and that’s what kind of started us selling them,” he says.
Even before the team started stocking its store with stuffed capuchin monkeys, however, fans had begun to bring their own.
In the meantime, says Bull, the team realized if it was going to continue to use the monkey, it would need to shoot its own clips with a monkey in Angels garb.
Since 2000, Bull says the team has worked with a company called Animal Actors in Thousand Oaks, Calif., that has used a variety of capuchin monkeys to shoot video clips for the Angels. The standard clip is the monkey jumping up and down, but the monkey has also been dubbed into famous movie scenes. Each year, too, the company will provide a Rally Monkey to appear at the team’s Fan Fest.
To Bull -- the Rally Monkey’s keeper, in a sense -- it’s just a fun piece of a larger puzzle. The players on the field are the stars. The monkey’s a supporting actor who plays a small, but popular, role.
“It’s kind of a fun thing to see and it kind of lightens the mood a little bit,” he says. “If you’re an Angels fan and you come to the game and we’re winning, you’re happy. If you don’t see a monkey, then all is good. If we’re [down] at least four runs or less, you might see a monkey on the board. Maybe for that moment it’ll make you pause for a second and go, ‘OK, we can come back in this game.’ It’s a symbol. And hopefully it’ll entertain some people.”