By Jim Caple
Page 2

Jose Vidro is going to Washington. So are Livan Hernandez, Tony Batista, Sun-Woo Kim and manager Frank Robinson. But sadly, the oldest and most beloved Expo of them all is not making the move to D.C. when his team becomes the Washington Nationals this spring.

"Youppi! will stay as part of the Quebec heritage," says Expos executive VP Claude Delorme. "He was first created in 1979, and people really identify with him. We wanted him to have some continuity, and we have had some negotiations with companies interested in acquiring his rights. We're getting real close."

That's right. You read correctly. Youppi! is for sale.

And not just his costume, but the entire concept of Youppi! -- the mascot, the image and the legend. Montreal's real le Grande Orange can be yours if you meet the right price and the right conditions.

Youppi!
How could this picture not make you cry?

Naturally, you can't really put a price tag on such a famous character; and, while Delorme declines to name a specific amount, he does acknowledge that we're talking "DEFINITELY six figures."

Money, however is not the most important matter -- Delorme wants Youppi! to go to a good home.

"This isn't really about making money," he says. "I've had offers much higher than the one we'll probably accept. But we're interested in protecting his image. There was a base price I wasn't willing to go under, but there were a few offers that were significantly higher than what I'll accept. But those companies weren't a good fit."

In other words, don't expect to see Youppi! hawking products for Seagrams, Labatt's or NakedPixofPamelaAnderson.com.

Now, six figures sounds like a lot for a clumsy guy with big feet and orange fur, but that's less than the Seattle Mariners recently paid for Richie Sexson -- and Youppi! is nearly as tall. Plus, as Mariners marketing whiz Kevin Martinez points out, in today's bloated mascot market, "That's a steal."

"Youppi! has proven himself over the years, and you know what you're going to get," Martinez says. "There's no question he's one of the best entertainers in the game. While the Mariners are very happy with the Moose, we're always looking to better our team."

FROM THE MAG
A major league team in D.C. was an idea whose time had come. Trouble is, it came way too quickly, writes Jim Caple.

I thought Martinez might be ready to make a bid ... until I mentioned the one minor stipulation in the Expos' transaction requirements for Youppi!: He can't leave the province.

"He's gotta stay in Quebec?" Martinez says. "Hmmm. That could be a problem. But with modern technology and the advancement of the Internet, we may look at having a mascot via satellite."

Maybe. But even if the Expos were willing to let Youppi! out of the country, there is no guarantee the Bush Administration would let him in. Could he get a work visa? Can he be fingerprinted if he doesn't have fingers? And can you imagine this exchange at the border?

CUSTOMS OFFICIAL: Are you bringing any animal or vegetables products into the country?

MARINERS: We're not sure.

CUSTOMS OFFICIAL: You're not sure whether you have anything in your car?

MARINERS: No, we're not sure whether he's animal or vegetable. We just know that he's orange.

CUSTOMS OFFICIAL: So he could be fruit?

MARINERS: Hadn't thought about it, but that's a good point.

Youppi! & Halle Berry
See, even Halle Berry is a big fan of Youppi!

Plus, Youppi! also would have to pass a team physical, and I don't even want to think about the part where the doctor tells him to turn his head and cough.

So, the Mariners are out. But Martinez is a Syracuse grad; and he suggests that, just from geographic and color-scheme perspectives, Youppi! might be a good fit replacing Otto the Orange at his alma mater. "While you very rarely see anyone go from the pros to college," Martinez says, "it worked for Pete Carroll."

It's a nice thought, but it's probably too late for Syracuse to make a new bid. Delorme says he's just about finalized Youppi!'s sale to a company -- he wouldn't reveal the name, though rumor has it the NHL's Canadiens are buying him -- but still needs to iron out a few legal details first. The sale should be done sometime during spring training, freeing Youppi! to pursue his new career.

I wish him luck. Generally viewed as the game's goofiest mascot (outside of Nelson de la Rosa and Don Zimmer), Youppi! has never been given proper respect. Jim Henson originally designed him to be one of the Muppets, but he didn't make the final cut.

No, really, I'm not making that up. Delorme swears it's true, and that the Expos paid the Muppets for his rights. Just imagine: Getting dumped by the Muppets. Apparently, Youppi! just didn't meet the same high Muppet standards set by Gonzo, Sweetums and those two crotchety old bastards in the balcony.

Then again, no one ever said it was easy being orange.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com




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