Tonight is the first game of the 111th World Series, and though the closest Major League Baseball teams are in Cincinnati and St. Louis, it’s a Kentucky native who lays claim to the title, “Baseball’s Unofficial Mascot.”
Morganna the Kissing Bandit was one of the most infamous traditions of America’s Favorite Pastime from the 1970s through the 1990s. She kissed everyone from Nolan Ryan to George Brett and Cal Ripken, Jr. during big games, and even branched into other sports to lovingly attack players like Kareem Abdul Jabbar with her lips.
Morganna grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, attending games at Eclipse Park with her grandfather. But it was in Cincinnati at a Reds game where she made her first “attack.” In 1970, she ran to center field at Crosley Field, where she gave Pete Rose a big hug and a kiss on the cheek. A few years into her notorious career, in an interview with the Orlando Sentinel, Morganna said, “A girlfriend dirty-double-dared me to do it.” She also recalled that Pete Rose was not pleased at the time. “He used terrible language and I was kind of hurt,” she said. “The next night, however, he tracked me down to the local nightclub where I was appearing and apologized with a bunch of roses.”
In a recent ESPN E:60 documentary, in which Moganna gave her final interview, Pete Rose remembered being “scared” of the girl chasing him to his position. He also recalled telling her, “You’re going to get in trouble!” and that she replied, “I sure-in-the-hell hope so!”
A Cincinnati sportswriter dubbed her “The Kissing Bandit” and the rest was history. In all, Morganna kissed almost two dozen baseball players—including George Brett at the 1979 All-Star Game—and hundreds of other athletes and entertainers. She became a pop culture icon of the 1970s and 1980s, appearing on late night talk shows, game shows, and according to her IMDB page, the 1996 movie, Kingpin.
Unfortunately, her well-publicized hobby also had consequences. She was arrested ~20 times in her career for crimes ranging from public indecency to trespassing, but was never convicted.
Her other line of work was as an exotic dancer, and she made most of her money dancing in Las Vegas, Houston, and Oklahoma City. That is, until she married an accountant and settled down in Columbus, Ohio. In 1999, she all but vanished from the public eye. Morganna’s 15 minutes had flickered out, and she retreated to a quiet life.
Morganna’s last interview with the ESPN crew is definitely worth the watch. The former baseball players featured offer fond memories of Morganna and her madcap antics. Several commented that they felt they had “made it” if they earned a kiss from Morganna, or that their teammates were jealous.
In an era before you could become Insta-famous or a Twitter-lebrity, Morganna cultivated her fame in the best way she knew how: through her fanaticism and charisma. “I’m not a sex symbol. I’m a comedienne. I make folks smile. I make them laugh—and that makes my day,” she told the Houston Chronicle, “What are we here for, if not that?”