I’m a little late on #NationalBobbleHeadDay, but here we go.
Mantle and Maris. Ruth and Gherig. Bobby Valentine and Fake Mustaches. Beers and Hot Dogs. Great combinations that shape our game and are proof of the poetic nature of the sport. However there is one duo that is held even more dear to the heart of baseball fans across the nation and around the globe.
Bobbleheads and Baseball.
Whether you scour through the schedule eyeing down each and every team bobblehead promotion in your area, hound eBay sellers to add to your collection, or pick up a few here and there and think about starting a decent collection one day (like me), bobbleheads are the quintessential baseball promotion.
But where do they come from? Why did baseball pick these as a fan favorite novelty and not just souvenir baseballs? Why the love and admiration for stand still action figures with enlarged bobbled heads? Let’s dive in.
Bobbleheads have been around for at least parts of 4 centuries!
Seriously. Historians can trace their origins back to mid-1700s China, where “nodding-head figures” as they were known at the time, were imported to England, parts of Europe, and even colonial America.
Throughout the 1800s, wagging-head dolls were a mainstay in Europe as decor and furnishings. And when we get into the 1900s, bobbleheads of animals were being produced in Germany, typically at the size of 6-8 inches.
1960: Bobbleheads, Meet Baseball
Approaching the 1960 World Series, Major League Baseball wanted in on the bobblehead fun. They took the initiative to create ceramic bobbleheads of 4 of the sports biggest stars: Roberto Clemente, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, and Roger Maris. Sounds freaking awesome, right?
I mean, yeah. This was a really cool idea. But things got a little weird in production. See, these bobbleheads were not exact replicas of the athletes like the ones we have showcased in our man-caves or she-sheds today. Each bobblehead that was created in this production line had exactly the same face, just with different uniforms. And it was CREEPY. Take a look at this Mantle version:
As creepy as they looked, the baseball world went crazy for them. And the rest of the pop culture world took notice. Specifically in the music world, where this set of the Beatles still remains one of the most valuable sets of bobbleheads ever created.
For Major League Baseball, bobblehead figurines were the new thing that families absolutely loved. The quality would certainly get better over time and begin to do a better job at resembling individual players, working up to the almost eerily close resemblance sets we have today.
For a period of 6 years, from ’66-‘71, gold base bobbleheads were created of Willie Mays exclusively, however, their quality suffered. Easily cracking, chipping – it was a perfectionists worst nightmare. I will say, it was much more realistic looking than the standard doll-face look.
1999: The Giants Change the Game
For the next 3 decades, bobbleheads were only available to be purchased at baseball stadiums until the San Francisco Giants changed the game in 1999, giving fans the opportunity to receive a bobblehead just for showing up to the park with a ticket. Once again, Willie Mays was at the center of it, and the Giants gave out his bobblehead to the first 20,000 fans on May 9th, to celebrate the 40th, and final, anniversary of Candlestick Park.
Other MLB franchises took notice, and the promotion frenzy that we see today, began. Starting in the year 2000, we saw bobbleheads reach different heights, placing players in different settings aside from the traditional profile picture stance. And with the internet taking full storm, online selling and trading took full effect.
Today, bobbleheads are everywhere, and everyone wants a piece. We now see people who aren’t even fans of the game show up to ballparks just to add to their own collection or to sell online to fans who weren’t able to make the game, especially when it’s an extremely rare case. They’ve intertwined into pop culture, tv show fanfare, and even showcase collaborations between companies, shows, teams and players alike. Even mascots are involved with major hit tv shows!
Wherever you fall on the bobblehead fanfare spectrum, they are certainly a staple of America’s past time and line the shelves of living rooms, bedrooms, game rooms, man caves and she sheds throughout the world.
What are your favorite bobbleheads? What’s your collection looking like? Let us know!
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Check out this video from MLB to go even more in depth about everyone’s favorite figurine!