It all started with a radio promo. Ted Giannoulas was a student at SDSU in 1974, when KGB radio was looking for somebody—anybody—to wear a bulky, gaudy chicken suit for a promotion at the San Diego Zoo. The job paid $2 an hour, but Giannoulas thought of an additional perk: If he continued the promotion at the stadium, maybe he’d get to see a Padres game for free. He convinced KGB to let him go to baseball games as The Chicken, and the Padres agreed.
His first appearance also happened to be the first game attended by new team owner and head of McDonald’s Ray Kroc—the one when Kroc infamously got on the loudspeaker and berated his team’s poor play. "I was in an aisleway when that happened, and I thought, uh-oh," recalls Giannoulas, who today lives near Lake Murray. "I was afraid he was going to turn his ire on me. I immediately headed for the exit."
Not to worry. The San Diego Chicken performed at every Padres home game from mid-1974 through 1980. Giannoulas separated from KGB after a dispute in 1979, debuting a new chicken costume in one of the greatest PR spectacles in sports history: "The Grand Hatching." With the main theme of 2001: A Space Odyssey blaring, he burst out of a 10-foot egg on the field in front of 47,000 screaming fans.
Giannoulas has since taken his slapstick act to 972 different stadiums or venues (on the road, he refers to himself as The Famous Chicken) and has made more than 17,000 appearances.
Looking back at 50 years of Padres history, the 65-year-old Giannoulas says it was "an enjoyable ride with the team and with San Diego fans. I’ve noticed that winning and losing has never gotten in the way of Padres fans having a good time."
San Diego Chicken Bobblehead Day
Padres vs. San Francisco Giants • July 27, 5:40 p.m.
"I plan to make this the funniest night of the year," says Giannoulas, who will perform. "There’ll be a few new bits, as well as the greatest hits."