Like every other Major League baseball team, the Atlanta Braves entice fans to the stadium for several games during the season by giving away bobbleheads. If you’re not familiar with them, the bobbleheads are usually small statues of players (or other people associated with a particular team) whose heads are on a spring that, well, bobbles.
For many years, bobbleheads were primarily confined to dogs and cats placed on the ledge behind the back seat under a car’s rear window for all those following the vehicle to enjoy. College mascots also were popular. In 1960, the first paper-mâché and ceramic player-specific bobbles were created. Those featured baseball stars of the day including Roberto Clemente, Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris and Willie Mays.
It wasn’t until 1999 that Mays’ Giants decided it would be a great idea to create a bobblehead giveaway. On May 9th that year, 35,000 San Francisco fans received Willie’s bobbing head as they entered the stadium. Since then, thousands of the statues have been created and distributed. Some of the most popular seem to be Star Wars-themed. At least eight different teams within just the last couple of years have featured one of their stars as a Stormtrooper from the movie franchise. The Giants went so far as to give away a Chewbacca bobblehead, complete with sound chip. (Hey, it’s near Silicon Valley. What else would you expect?)
The Braves have honored various team members over the years. Perhaps the most popular ones have portrayed long-time manager Bobby Cox and Hall-of-Famer-to-be Chipper Jones in various poses.
This year, the Braves are hosting half a dozen or so bobblehead nights. Ordinarily, being a bobblehead subject would indicate that the honoree is a long-time fan favorite or perhaps doing great things for the team. Unfortunately, there’s been a little hard luck associated with those statues of late.
For instance, earlier this year, pitcher Bartolo Colon got his own bobblehead. Soon thereafter, Bartolo was given his unconditional release by the club. My guess is the Braves would have parted with the troubled starter sooner, but then they would have been stuck with 20,000 or so of unwanted statues.
The Braves also created a unique version of the souvenir for supposed rookie sensation, Dansby Swanson. As of this writing, Swanson is no longer the everyday starting shortstop, and there is a rumor he may be spending a little time in the minors to improve his .220 batting average and underperforming fielding percentage.
The Braves joined the Star Wars bandwagon by featuring knuckleball specialist R.A. Dickey as a Stormtrooper. Soon thereafter, Dickey had three of his worst outings of the season.
Now, to be fair, All-Star Ender Inciarte has thrived after getting his own bobblehead. But the others, not so much. Which makes me think there may be a little of the infamous “Sports Illustrated Cover” curse in play here. (Over the years, there has been somewhat of a correlation between baseball players – and other athletes – appearing on the front of the magazine and not-so-pleasant things happening to their careers immediately thereafter.)
I just want to bring those examples to the attention of Atlanta management. They might want to reconsider the upcoming Freddie Freeman bobblehead giveaway. After the announcement in the spring that Freddie would have his own bobblehead night, he was hit by a pitch, which broke his wrist. He’s just recently rejoined the team after healing for several weeks. Freeman’s the best player the Braves have and the new face of the franchise. Does the club really want to take a chance on Freddie tanking in September by bobbleheading him in August?
I don’t know if bobblehead honorees on other teams have experienced the same fate as Braves’ players, but I do know all the teams use it as a promotion. And there definitely several saluted players were then traded the next year, for whatever reasons.
If my hypothesis continues to be proven true, perhaps other industries will use bobbleheads as something like a voodoo doll. Instead of sticking pins into a lookalike doll of an adversary, they will simply create a statue. Bad things could happen. Politicians would probably join in. Maybe a Donald Trump or Chuck Schumer bobblehead. Bernie Sanders would make a fine one. Or Ted Cruz. (The Washington Nationals didn’t have a Hillary bobblehead night last October, did they?)
For the moment, just let this be a word of caution. If anyone creates a bobblehead in your likeness, be aware. That might not be such a great honor.
©MMXVII. William J. Lewis, III