Recently, the Staten Island Yankees announced that they would be taking a page out of other minor league teams’ books — the Trenton Thunder’s Pork Roll switch, the Buffalo Bisons donning Buffalo Wings uniforms — and undergo a temporary rebrand to help market the team and have a little fun. So for five Saturdays this summer, they will be the Staten Island Pizza Rats.
The name change was the result of a fan vote in 2016, and the team (a Class A Yankees affiliate) acknowledges on their Pizza Rats website that the original, viral pizza rat is long gone (that video was from 2015!) but the name won by an “overwhelming margin” and they are bringing it back for another round of rebranding fun this year.
Not everyone is on board with the fun though, as a local Italian organization is outraged — outraged — by this rebranding and has pulled out of the team’s planned Italian Heritage Night as a result.
The Staten Island Advance reports that the Order Sons of Italy in America Fr. Vincent R. Capodanno Lodge #212 sent a letter to members saying,
“It is with significant disappointment that I am informing you of the cancellation of our Italian Heritage Night celebration that was scheduled to be held at Staten Yankees Stadium on July 21st. The cancellation resulted in response to current changes the Staten Island Yankees Management Representatives have added to what was supposed to be our night to celebrate and promote a positive image of Italian culture and heritage.”
In their infinite wisdom, they have decided to add “Rats” to “Pizza” ( Yes! Pizza.. One of the few positive things people automatically associate with Italians and Italy). To say the least, that’s a pizza topping that gives me a bad case of (agita). To add salt to the wound, July 21 falls on one of the five home game nights in which the Staten Island Yankees are renamed and called “The Staten Island Pizza Rats”.
Apparently, the Sons of Italy are also upset that their night was set to share a game with Star Wars night, even though the group only purchased about 50 tickets to the game.
Staten Island Yankees president Will Smith (a name which really is an underrated part of this whole story) said of the reaction,
“I’m upset that they are upset. It was never done to be offensive to anyone or group. I understand, but I don’t agree ... With respect to the (Italian Heritage Night) promotion, I would love it if it was big enough to hold on its own but it’s not.”
The “understand, but don’t agree” piece seems to be the correct reaction here. Claiming you are offended by a Pizza Rats rebranding because it is offensive to Italians by combining “pizza” with “rats” is willful ignorance at best. Anyone on Staten Island could have explained to them the origin of the name.
Rather than finding a legitimate misrepresentation of Italians to protest (is Gotti not showing in any Staten Island theaters?) they’re latching on to something that is so far from offensive as to make the organization look silly. Not to mention the rebranding came from a fan vote, which wouldn’t have happened if local fans were actually offended.
The protest doesn’t seem to be phasing the Staten Island team at all, as they’ve already sold far more merchandise thanks to the temporary name change than they did during the entire 2017 season.