The Phillie Phanatic was introduced during the 1978 season. Over the decades, he's become very popular with fans. Opinions of him among members of opposing teams could be decidedly mixed. His interactions with them are often playful, but sometimes antagonistic.

What exactly he's supposed to be isn't fully clear. But according to his 'official biography', he comes from the Galapagos Islands and is the Philadelphia Phillies' biggest fan. However, his team allegiance may soon be changing.

Could soon become a free agent

The Phillie Phanatic was designed by puppet designer Bonnie Erickson.

Among Erickson's other creations are Miss Piggy and Statler and Waldorf of "The Muppets" and several other sports mascots. The Phanatic was brought forth from an agreement between the Philadelphia Phillies and Harrison/Erickson, Inc., or H/E. H/E was founded by Erickson and her husband, Wayde Harrison.

In the original contract, the Phillies had rights to the mascot for five years. A new agreement was negotiated in 1984, which is where things get more complicated. According to The News Journal, the Phillies claim they bought all legal rights to the Phanatic. H/E claim otherwise and are trying to win back control of the character.

The earliest that H/E could stake their claim was this year, as per SB Nation.

Apparently, it's because of Section 203 of the Copyright Act that they couldn't do so before. he section states that creators can terminate agreements, even ones granted in perpetuity, if there are particular prerequisites involved. However, the termination of rights can't be done for at least 35 years.

In any event, the matter has been taken to court.

The Phillies want the matter to be decided by in a jury trial. Along with the other legal disputes, the team claims that H/E committed fraud on copyright forms. If it's found that the Phanatic belongs to H/E, they're free to shop him as a free agent. Other Major League Baseball teams or other entities could feature the Phanatic at their events.

And the Phillies will have lost an iconic part of their franchise. Possibly to see him join one of their archrivals.

Wouldn't be the first mascot to switch teams

Youppi! was another product from Bonnie Erickson. The mascot was used by the Montreal Expos and was meant to be a representation of Expos fans. But then it was announced that the team was moving to Washington, D.C. and becoming the Washington Nationals. The Nationals would use a new mascot, an anthropomorphized eagle called Screech.

Negotiations began as to who might win over rights for Youppi! with several teams. In the end, he went to the Montreal Canadiens of the NHL.