Baseball and bobbleheads: plastic toys make lasting memories

Rob Steiner
MesaCC Legend

People love a freebie, and sports franchises realized a favorite of their fans is the popular bobblehead of a favorite athlete. It seems there is an American fascination for little bobbling figures.  Every time there’s a baseball game that promotes bobblehead giveaways, there’s a crowd clamoring for the seven-inch size wobbly head toys. In recent years, the bobblehead has become a popularity status for some players, as a means to show they made it to the big leagues because the fans are all gung-ho over a bobblehead made in their likeness.  The bobblehead has a long history of it being created for sports, particularly baseball.

According to  thebobblehall.com, the first sports bobbleheads were ceramic and were designed to look like four baseball players: Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente, Mickey Mantle, and Roger Maris.  At the time all four shared the same face. The bobblehead went away largely due to the cost of producing the memorabilia. Years later, in the 1990s, new technology changed how the bobblehead was created, and plastic, an inexpensive alternative, became the preferred material. The San Francisco Giants baseball team were first to make the comeback with a bobblehead of Willie Mays.
They were awarded to the first 20,000 fans. The toy was a marketing success, and other sports took notice how fans were eager to receive it.

This caused a major change to not only the increasing bobblehead marketing industry, but it also changed how all major sports franchises ran their promotions.  We all love free stuff, and some day these items can be part of a collector’s item, and be sold for a lot of money — much like the popular Cracker Jack boxed molasses-flavored popcorn that came with “Toy Prizes” inside.  Today, some of those toys are considered vintage and a few have some value.  At least that’s the thought that can go into some of this bobblehead stuff.

After all, there are antiquing reality television shows, like History channel’s “Pawn Stars”, that purchase collections, of all different types, from people gathering items such as bobbleheads or other sports memorabilia.  Once, riding home on the tram after a baseball game we noticed multiple park employees with bags full of extra bobbleheads that were given away that night.  I overheard their conversation about them taking the bobbleheads home to sell online. It became a second source of income for them.  Whether it was legal or not that I’m uncertain, but it just shows how much of an interest there is for these sports toys.

If you go to the ballpark almost at any time there are banners and advertisement spots for giveaways.  I have seen t-shirts, purses, dog toys, and hats as giveaways in addition to bobbleheads.
American sports no longer will fill a stadium with just the product on the field.  With television coverage being as good as it is currently, some people need an alternative reason to pay a hefty ticket price to see a game. In addition to all the giveaways, ballparks and stadiums now have added crazy food options, including four-pound burgers, churros wrapped in a long-john donut and topped with layers of ice cream, or the 18-inch-long corn dog stuffed with jalapeno, cheddar, and bacon. Stop!  I don’t know where these sports team promotions will trek to next.  What I do know is that they will always continue to try and get more people in their seats by what seems like at any means necessary.  And if bobbleheads are one of those ways, then why not?  At least kids will enjoy them until they break.

Mesa Legend Staff

Mesa Legend Staff

Stories contributed by MCC journalism students. See end of each article for corresponding authors.
Mesa Legend Staff

Latest posts by Mesa Legend Staff (see all)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *