So what do Hall of Fame baseball players like Ryne Sandberg, Robin Yount, Nolan Ryan, Ernie Banks and Greg Maddux have in common with newer players like Carlos Correa, Eric Hosmer and Alex Bregman? They are all players depicted as a bobble head figurine made available to fans! And the list does not stop with players as popular announcers such as Bob Uecker of the Brewers and Denny Matthews of the Royals have been “honored.”
Actually, in recent years, the bobble heads have not been only of individuals but of events. Great catches, milestone hits, and other such baseball happenings have been immortalized in the frenetically moving figures. In fact, early in this season the Chicago Cubs are having a stadium giveaway of a bobble that commemorates the “last out” of the 2017 World Series!
Of course, these items are not to everyone’s taste. But they have such a large following and are so popular that the Miami Marlins ball park features a “Bobblehead Museum.” And in recent years a National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum (click here for their website) has been established in the Milwaukee, Wisconsin area. They are the outfit behind the National Bobblehead Day each year on January 7.
So what is a bobble head all about?
A bobblehead doll, also known as a nodder, or wobbler, is a collectible toy. Its head is often oversized compared to its body. Instead of a solid connection, its head is connected to the body by a spring or hook in such a way that a light tap will cause the head to bobble, hence the name. Of course, those who collect these items will rarely “play” with the toys in this manner so as to not risk damage.
Bobbleheads have been made featuring a wide variety of figures (e. g., breakfast cereal mascot Count Chocula, the ‘Yo Quiero Taco Bell’ Chihuahua, and even Ronald McDonald). However, the most commonly known figurines are usually associated with athletes, and especially with baseball players.
Although there are references to bobblehead-like items going back to pre-Civil War days, the “modern” bobblehead first appeared in the 1950s. And by 1960, Major League Baseball got in on the action by producing a series of paper-mache bobblehead dolls, one for each team, all with the same face, and sold at Major League ball parks. These early bobbles are eagerly sought after, but it is difficult to find them in a pristine condition.
Over time the materials used to make nodders switched to ceramic. This made them heavier, but also brought about new issues with chipping, cracking and breaking. Throughout the 60s and early 70s bobbleheads would be produced for other sports, as well as cartoon characters. However, by the mid-1970s it appeared the bobblehead craze was in the process of having run its course.
Yet, just as the collecting of baseball cards took off thanks to a fascination with rookie cards and an influx of new manufacturers, there was another life waiting for the bouncing head dolls. Indeed, a bobblehead resurgence came about in the 1990s as cheaper manufacturing processes and a switch of the main bobblehead material from ceramic to plastic brought the bouncing ball players back into vogue. It was now possible to make bobbleheads in the very limited numbers necessary for them to be viable collectibles. From that era to the current day, the bobble head has become one of the most popular “giveaways” in most Major League and Minor League markets. The first baseball team to offer a bobblehead giveaway in this modern wave was the San Francisco Giants, which distributed 35,000 Willie Mays head nodders at their May 9, 1999 game. Some minor league teams now produce bobbles in numbers only around 1,000 total, making collectors scramble for the items…and willing to pay for them!
Most clubs of MLB will have at least one bobble head giveaway during a season, and many feature annual “sets” of several bobble heads to commemorate fan favorite players, historic moments, and evening racing condiments! Already it is possible to see the promotional schedules for giveaways, and collectors are making summer travel plans around which bobble they want to add to their collection.
But fans are not the only ones involved with the bobbing ball players. Throughout the baseball community certain TV announcing teams have taken bobbleheads with them on the road when their team is on a winning streak. Of course, conversely, some have been known to take out frustrations on an unsuspecting bobble or two during a losing streak. Whatever the motivation, and however they are collected, to those who love their bobble heads it doesn’t matter much if it is the latest Hall of Fame player (2017 inductee Jeff Bagwell is being “bobbled” by the Astros on August 5) or the team mascot. Just let them add it to their roster.