What day is the one day you look forward to each year? Your birthday? National Artichoke Day?

For baseball lifers like Bill Giles its major league baseball’s opening day!
It’s the spring kickoff of our national pastime and for Bill, it could literally be national blast off day!

He lived it the whacky world of sports promotions.

A world where Benny Koski, the Human Bomb and Morganna, the Kissing Bandit made their marks.
Bill was a king maker in this whacky world and as the Phillies Vice President of Baseball Operations, opening day was his stage.

Searching for any silly soul willing to sacrifice their dignity and even risk their lives to make opening day electrifying.
In the spring of 1972, Bill thought he had found his next budding superstar in a fearless character who jumped off cliffs with a kite strapped on his back and sailed through the air.

What a vision!

Jumping off Veterans Stadium’s roof and sailing into home plate with the first ball!

Unfortunately, a player’s strike delayed the start of the season by one week and Bill’s guy had a previous engagement teaching the president of Mexico how to waterski!

Good work if you can get it.
After investing $5000 in the construction of a wooden launch ramp in the upper deck of the Vet and advertising heavily: “Come see Kiteman!”, Bill was stuck.

An exhaustive search of the yellow pages proved that Kitemen were in short supply but that effort revealed a Cypress Garden’s waterskiing performer named Richard Johnson.

Mr. Johnson was willing to come to Philadelphia for a quick tryout but after seeing the wooden ramp he immediately declined.
Bill responded by upping Mr. Johnson’s appearance fee from $1000 to $1500 and he was back onboard!

Bill asked him if he wanted to practice first and Johnson quipped,

“Mr. Giles, if I’m going to kill myself, I want someone other than just you watching me.”

Two days later on a chilly, windy night in south Philadelphia before the start of the 1972 season the former Mr. Johnson, now known as Kiteman, was ready.

Paul Callahan, a sales guy from Bill’s team, accompanied him to the top of Veteran’s stadium where the plywood take-off ramp was built.

As he got into position, Dan Baker, the Phillies P.A. man began to build the tension.

In the past he had done the same for Evil Knievel and on this night Kiteman was going to get his best.
“Never before seen in a major-league stadium,” Baker said, his voice booming, “The world-renowned Kiteman will fly high above the stadium to deliver the first ball of the 1972 season. Here’s the Kiteman!”
Kiteman, still at the top of the ramp, stood motionless.

Bill radioed Callahan and said “Why isn’t he moving?”

Callahan responded, “Because he is scared shitless!”.

Bill, with as much empathy he could muster, yelled, “Can’t you give him a push?”
Kiteman must have been inspired by Dan Baker’s introduction, after all, and before Paul had a chance to act on Bill’s directive, he started skittering down the ramp, skis and all!

Slowly at first but quickly picking up speed and for a moment it looked like he might just do it until a sudden gust of wind blew him off course.

Pushing him off the side of the ramp and crashing into empty seats below. 

Bill said he thought Kiteman was dead!

But, by the time Paul reached him, expecting the worst, was surprised to see Kiteman jump to his feet, grabbed the baseball, taped on the end of his kite and attempted to throw the ball down to the field below.

Unfortunately, his toss only reached the Phillies bullpen in right field.

The Phillies faithful, who had just witnessed the tragic crash of Kiteman, responded with lustful booing only increasing after Kiteman’s anemic throw.
You would think after this discouraging debacle Bill would have second thoughts of celebrating his favorite day with anymore hang-gliding ineptitude but you would be incorrect.

In fact, Kiteman made return appearances on several Opening Days at Veterans Stadium, always failing miserably to make a successful flight to deliver the opening day ball.

Each time he crashed or otherwise ended up in a heap, the fans went wild.

Finally, on one season opener, Kiteman actually landed successfully and handed the ball to the catcher…and the fans booed!

Kiteman had become the embodiment of the fan’s love of carnage and pratfalls; he was part of the Phillies fans’ DNA.

Without Bill’s faith in powerful fun, many purveyors of fearless silliness wouldn’t be infamous and Phillies baseball would not be a unique experience for the whole family that it is today.

Without a dose of Brilliant Stupidity, Veterans Stadium would have just been a bigger, emptier version of the Connie Mack ballpark.
When speaking to corporate CEO’s and leaders, I love to lead with the story of Kiteman. It illustrates the concept of embracing failure because epic fails can lead to innovative change but most importantly it champions the fearless believe in Brilliant Stupidity.

Changing the false narrative that fun is bad and a waist of time. Using it instead as a process that challenges preconceptions and positively transforms culture, group dynamics, and how individuals see an organization and their place within it.
This was adapted excerpt from my new book, Brilliant Stupidity, due out in 2024 with special thanks to Eric Wittenberg’s “Remembering Kiteman”