Entering U.S. Cellular Field on Saturday, I stood in what appeared to be the shorter of two lines. Nearby, a man paced frantically. He was moving quickly, counting the people he passed with the skill of a savant or flight attendant. He walked over to the gate and read the label on the box in front of him. Then, he counted all of the boxes in sight and multiplied the contents. He nodded to his friend, who stood just in front of us. He assured us that we'd be getting one.
I was... relieved?
We could have chosen any of the three White Sox games last weekend, but it made the most sense to go for Paul Konerko bobblehead night. While the plastic figure wasn't the sole reason we left the sofa and headed to the park, it was clear that it was the motivator for a lot of people, including the pacing maniac looking for a shortcut. He even tried to stand with the patrons in wheelchairs to get in the faster line.
I suppose if I'm going to be at the ballpark and there's a promotion, I would like to collect my free tchotchke as memento of being in attendance, but it's not the reason I go. As the gate opened, though, it became abundantly clear that we were amateurs amongst avid collectors and resellers. Most scooped up their Konerko bobbleheads and headed up the escalator into the ballpark; others waited in line to scan their tickets out so that they could put their baubles in the car.
Then there are the schemers. Some buy multiple tickets and keep entering to collect as many promotions as they can carry. There's nothing illegal about it; if people are willing to pay the price of admission just to obtain a bobblehead, well, it's a free country. Others scan out on their ticket, then walk back into the park and collect another since the ticket-takers don't have a good way of tracking who has already received one. More surprisingly, some walk in, collect their bobblehead, and make their way to the exits and are never seen again. I'm not sure if those that leave are in it for their personal collection or for resale purposes. I'll refrain from judgment, but it's just a sign that for some the bobblehead craze is more important than the baseball itself.
Bobbleheads aren't anything new. The first bobbleheads date back to Germany in 1852, and the first sports bobblehead surfaced in the 1920s, a generic basketball player for the New York Knicks. In baseball, interest in the collectible was sparked in the 1960s with figures of Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Willie Mays, and Roberto Clemente. The current bobblehead obsession started in 1999, when the San Francisco Giants revived the tradition with a Willie Mays bobblehead promotion.
In the years that followed, some teams would offer a bobblehead or two a season, but the number has continued to escalate: since 2010 there have been 334 bobblehead promotional giveaways at major league parks. These promotions have been a great way for teams to incentivize attendance; Paul Konerko and Harold Baines Bobblehead Nights have been the highest-attended White Sox games of the season (Opening Day excluded), and that's an effect that's felt around the league. There's only one team that hasn't done a Bobblehead promotion since 2010, and that's the Boston Red Sox. In their history, they've offered just one: Nomar Garciaparra in 2002. The Giants, the organization that resurrected the craze, have done the most promotions since 2010: 34 in that span, 77 total since 1999.
The unexplored question about bobbleheads doesn't relate to the history or the business. It was asked of me while we were sitting in the stands on Saturday, following a Konerko single to right field: "Ever wonder how players do on their Bobblehead Day?"
To be honest, until that moment I hadn't wondered. But that was the sort of insignificant tidbit that I love to fill my brain with... the type of fact so obscure that it'd never be on "Jeopardy!," a Trivial Pursuit card, or even bar trivia, but might facilitate discussion among my fellow baseball dweebs. While the statistics are absolutely insignificant, I couldn't fight the urge to do the research.
So, I did. I went back to 2010, and looked up promotional data for all 30 major league teams, and cross-referenced that information with game logs.* It's hard to compile an exhaustively accurate list since promotions get canceled and changed, but the bulk of the information I found for the 334 bobbleheads should be 99-percent accurate.
Here are some of my interesting-yet-completely-insignificant findings from the happenings on bobblehead nights:
- Of the 334 promotional games since 2010, the team offering the promotion won 54 percent of those games.
- The Milwaukee Brewers and Chicago White Sox have had bobbleheads of popular beer vendors from their ballparks. The Brewers have also done a bobblehead for all of their racing sausages.
- Lucy, Snoopy, and Charlie Brown have all had their own bobbleheads. So have Tony Hawk, M.C. Hammer, Jerry Garcia, and Rob Schneider.
- Several players were on the disabled list on their bobblehead night, including Andre Ethier, Kyle Blanks, Grady Sizemore, Andrew Cashner, Freddy Sanchez, Buster Posey, and Placido Polanco.
- On May 26, 2010, the Baltimore Orioles hosted Nolan Reimold bobblehead night. Reimold wasn't there, though -- he was sent down to the minors after hitting .205 in the first 29 games of the season.
- In perhaps the most famous failed bobblehead promotion of all time, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays planned to honor Jason Tyner with a bobblehead on June 2, 2002. However, they were never distributed since he was demoted the week before, and most of the 10,000 have apparently been in storage ever since. A few have leaked and are highly sought after on the secondary market.
- In 2009, the Cleveland Indians traded Victor Martinez the day before his scheduled bobblehead event. They decided to give out the bobbleheads anyway, though I'd imagine it was awfully awkward.
- The Phillies had a Hunter Pence bobblehead night on the calendar prior to his trade to the Giants last season. They gave out the bobbleheads along with a postcard from Hunter Pence and a Carlos Ruiz Fathead.
It's serendipitous when a starting pitcher actually takes the mound on their bobble day given that the promotional schedules are made so far in advance. Since 2010, seven starting pitchers made appearances on their special night. Perhaps the plastic figurines made them stronger, because several had strong outings; overall, starters are 4-3 on their bobblehead nights. Here are some more pitcher facts:
- Roy Halladay pitched a complete game on his May 18, 2010 promo night. Halladay gave up nine hits, one walk, and just two earned runs and struck out six. While it was one of the best performance by a pitcher on bobblehead night, the Phillies lost to the Pirates 2-1. Another note on Halladay bobbleheads: In 2012, MLB.com sold a Halladay bobblehead, but he was posed as a lefty instead of a righty. The item was pulled.
- Jeff Samardzija was dominant on his bobblehead night, May 29, 2012. He pitched seven innings, giving up just three earned runs, one walk, one home run, and struck out eight as the Cubs beat the Padres 5-3.
- On July 22, 2012, Matt Moore pitched eight innings, giving up two earned runs. Moore struck out seven, but the Rays lost to the Mariners, 2-1
- Dan Haren pitched eight innings on his bobblehead night, June 12, 2010, giving up two earned runs. Since 2010, Haren has the most strikeouts on a bobblehead night (nine). The Diamondbacks have the best luck at their starters making appearances on promo night: Haren, Ian Kennedy, and Wade Miley have pitched and won on their days.
It's more likely to see a reliever pitch on his bobblehead night, even though they are less likely to be commemorated in plastic than their starter brethren. As you'd expect from volatile relievers, some have done extremely well in honor of their plastic statues, but others have had rough outings.
- Closers Jonathan Broxton, Andrew Bailey, and Jonathan Axford all earned saves on their bobblehead nights.
- Craig Kimbrel pitched the ninth inning on his June 13, 2012 bobblehead night. The Braves were hosting the Yankees. Kimbrel struck out Mark Teixeira looking and forced Eric Chavez to groundout to second. He struck out Nick Swisher for what appeared to be the third out, but Swisher reached on a wild pitch/dropped third strike. Kimbrel got the fourth out -- a strikeout of Russell Martin -- but, the Braves still lost, 3-2. Kimbrel is the only pitcher to record four outs in one inning on bobblehead night.
- The worst relief appearance on a bobblehead night belongs to Jeremy Affeldt. On August 23, 2012 he replaced Barry Zito with runners on first and second and gave up a double to Freddie Freeman which scored Chipper Jones and Martin Prado. He then walked Dan Uggla and was replaced by Javier Lopez, having failed to record an out. The Giants won 5-2.
There have been many hitters honored with bobbleheads since 2010, and they seem to bring mostly good luck, especially where home runs are concerned. There have been a few players that have missed the opportunity to play on their bobblehead night, either because of injury or just an off day, but the majority have been active on their special day:
- There have been a lot of bobblehead night homeruns. Chipper Jones, Eric Hosmer, Ryan Zimmerman, Aramis Ramirez, Nick Markakis, Matt Kemp, Jose Bautista, Josh Hamilton, Cody Ross, Jayson Werth, Chris Young, Carlos Lee, Adrian Beltre, Hanley Ramirez, and Mark Teixeria all homered on their respective nights.
- Since 2010, Jayson Werth and Adrian Beltre are tied for the most RBI on their bobblehead nights with three each.
- Hanley Ramirez joined the Dodgers healthy and ready to play in time for his bobblehead night on April 30th of this season. He had two hits -- a double and a home run -- with one RBI. The Dodgers beat the Rockies 6-2.
- In the final bobblehead night of his career, August 16, 2012, Chipper Jones had the best offensive performance of the past three seasons, hitting two home runs, had three RBI. It was an upgrade over his 2011 bobblehead night performance, in which he grounded into a double play in his only plate appearance.
- They should have given Ryan Zimmerman's bobblehead an accessory on June 19, 2010: a golden sombrero, to commemorate his four strikeouts.
- Jayson Werth, Josh Willingham, Pablo Sandoval, and BJ Upton were all intentionally walked on their respective bobblehead nights.
If this list of trivia has piqued your interest in collecting bobbleheads, you'll be pleased to know that hundreds of them are available on ebay, though the sellers tend to overvalue their collectibles, much as speculators in the baseball card market did in the mid-90s. Still, chances are you can find one of your favorite players -- I've acquired a Pedro Martinez and a Chris Sabo (with Rec Specs!) -- or snag a good deal on a Milwaukee Brewers racing chorizo, White Sox organist Nancy Faust, or baseball greats like Johnny Bench, Keith Hernandez, or Stan Musial. Stay away from the Vin Scully bobbleheads, though. I'm still waiting on the prices of those to come down enough so that I can add one to my collection.
*I'd love to expand the database beyond 2010, but I don't really have the query knowledge to do that easily. If that's in your wheelhouse and you'd like to team up on this project, I'm happy to share the data that I have. While I don't want to publish the full list of results at this time since it's a work in progress, if anyone wants results, or player specific information, just let me know -- I'm happy to share.