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A minor league baseball team trolls Disney with its ‘Steamboat Willie’ jerseys


A minor league baseball team trolls Disney with its ‘Steamboat Willie’ jerseys


I’ve seen enough: The prize for the best use of public domain Mickey Mouse goes to the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp.

For its public domain theme night, the minor league baseball team will wear jerseys made entirely of iconic images that are no longer protected by copyright: Van Gogh’s “Starry Night,” King Kong, and the earliest depiction of Mickey Mouse from the 1928 short “Steamboat Willie.”

“Steamboat Willie” entered the public domain when the clock struck midnight to ring in 2024, marking the first time that any version of Mickey Mouse has been set free from the litigious grasp of Disney.

When a work becomes public domain, that means its copyright has expired, so anyone can use the work however they please. It’s why we have adaptations like “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” or a Broadway staging of “The Great Gatsby.”

“Steamboat Willie” memes quickly went viral, as internet trolls tested their limits by portraying Mickey Mouse (but only the specific version from “Steamboat Willie”) in increasingly compromising positions.

It’s normal that opportunists will try to manufacture a viral moment by creating things like a Winnie the Pooh slasher film, but the entrance of “Steamboat Willie” into the public domain seemed like it would never come. That’s because Disney worked for decades to extend its copyright for as long as possible — it was a rich move for a company that relies heavily on public domain fairy tales for iconic stories like “Cinderella,” “The Little Mermaid” and “Beauty and the Beast.” Critics found Disney’s lobbying so hypocritical that a 1998 copyright extension is sometimes referred to as the “Mickey Mouse Protection Act.”

“Steamboat Willie” memes have lasted this long into the new year, not because they’re a celebration of an older film, but because the memes make people feel like they’re rebelling against the system… if the system is Big Mouse. It’s a low-stakes way to make an all-powerful corporation just a teeny bit angry.

These public domain Mickey memes have seeped into pop culture, even serving as part of an advertising campaign for the new season of “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.” But Minor League Baseball isn’t exactly as prominent a fixture in entertainment as a late-night comedy show, which gives the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp even more leeway to behave in delightfully unhinged ways.

According to minor league reporter Benjamin Hill, this all-time gaudiest jersey is the brainchild of David Ratz, the promotions director for the Jumbo Shrimp.

Ratz’s ideas are so absurd (“Mystery Egg Roll Night”) that I wonder if I’m being pranked, and I’m going to have to write a retraction that I, a reporter at TechCrunch, was fooled into thinking the Mickey Mouse/Starry Night uniforms were real. But it’s on the website, I swear!

All the while, Major League Baseball is sparking some uniform memes of its own. Players are donning new uniforms from Fanatics, but players find the production to be shoddy and, at times, see-through. But at least their uniforms won’t be the most ridiculous ones we see on the field this year.


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