A 52-year old legend approaches. He walks nimbly, almost deliberately as if he has tread on sharp rocks barefoot his entire life.
Moose dons a Stone Cold Steve Austin tee that has a glowing skull blowing blue steam out of its ears and mouth. A Denver Broncos cap tilts comfortably over his saddle brown-black hair. It’s been six years since we’ve last seen each other.
Bill “Moose” Sheingorn is the man, the myth, the legend. Moose worked as an emergency room surgeon during the nightshift in Las Vegas – and burned out after a staggering eight years on the job.
Moose produced a television show called “45 Questions” for a year on Rockville, Maryland cable. “45 Questions” based itself on Moose’s uncanny ability to recognize oldies in split-second fragments on the spot.
He has been thrown out of downtown casinos for winning too consistently in blackjack because of his phenomenal memory.
Even for the sporting world, Moose shared a unique gift of making people laugh. For unofficial sports mascots who toil in bizarre outfits in half-empty arenas, fields, stadiums or coliseums, the San Francisco Giants’ Jolly Giant epitomized a joyful element that generally gets lost in the shuffle in baseball.
Why was the Jolly Giant an unofficial mascot? “The team never officially recognized me, so I was on my own really,” Sheingorn said.
From 1979 to 1981, Moose put on the black and orange apparatus that “was loosely modeled after the Phillie Phanatic. I saw the Phillie Phanatic and thought he was hilarious,” Moose said. “I thought to myself, ‘What a fun job. What a fun thing to do, to entertain people and make people laugh and act funny.'”
“I enjoyed the antics of the Phillie Phanatic. I just wanted to try my hand at it too. The costume was very cumbersome, it was hot in there too. And I really needed an assistant to accompany me and to also help me see where I was going. It was relatively low-budget affair; I think the costume cost $300.”
Moose scurried around Las Vegas looking for a tailor willing to shoulder the task of stitching together the Jolly Giant.
“I called around and finally got to a lady who made costumes for showgirls,” he said. “So she made the costume.”
The Jolly Giant entertained fans in the National League mostly for road trips away from Candlestick Park.
“I used to travel around to all of the ballparks and when the Giants went on their road trips, I would organize my work schedule so I’d have time off to go on the road trips,” Moose said. “I had to pay my own way through traveling on planes. I stayed with the team and I’d go to some cocktail lounges at night with them.”
Moose split his time from the horrors of the ER night shift to the baseball diamonds across the country.
“I probably went to about half of the Giants’ road games. The home games I never went to. I didn’t like Candlestick that much and it was exciting going to all the different cities and staying in the same hotel as the players. I got complimentary tickets that were right behind the dugout where all the players’ wives and relatives and the VIPs sat. Some of the people I got to know are still active in baseball like [current Montreal Expos manager] Frank Robinson. He’s a very nice guy.”
Moose also witnessed former Dodger sensation Fernando Valenzuela in his rookie year in 1981 and the Astros’ pitching staff including Nolan Ryan and J.R. Richard.
A typical day on the job would involve Moose having breakfast in the morning and putting the suit on in a hotel before taking off for the ballpark when the gates opened to the public. Good friend Nocky Greenwood helped Moose put the costume on.
“Nocky helped me put it on then I’d walk to the stadium from the hotel or take public transportation,” Moose said. “At the game, I’d just walk around and do antics with the fans. For example, if there was a bald guy, I’d take a feather duster and dust his head.”
In April 1980, Moose wore the suit “around town in different casinos” in Vegas. One spectator who saw the Giant quipped, “I thought I left you at the bar at three in the morning.” Another guy chirped, “What’s my mother-in-law doing here?”
* * *
We’re cruising in the minivan, and my folks are scouring Goleta for a decent bite to eat.
“That guy looks like a drinker, there,” Moose says in his classic deadpan humor. A beefy, uncouth gentleman walks out of a dive as if he’d never been on this hemisphere of the globe. I laugh hysterically.
“Aren’t you supposed to interview Billy?” my dad pipes from the wheel.
“Yeah, we’re in the interviewing process now, I guess. He’s got the recorder,” Moose answers.
After some more chatter, my old man jumps in and asks me: “Why don’t you just misquote him?”
“Yeah, you can make up anything you want,” Moose jokes. “I won’t give you any trouble.”
His friendly, unassuming smile sets in, and the interview continues.