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Promotions Watch: Bobbleheads and Gnomes Part I

Tommy Lasorda garden gnome

Few giveaways make for better collectibles than bobbleheads and garden gnomes, both of which are popular promotions in Major League and Minor League Baseball. As the regular season approaches, Promotions Watch will highlight some of the most notable bobblehead and gnome giveaways in both circuits during the two-part series. This week will feature the majors, followed by the minors next week.

At the major league level, there is an unfolding trend of teams skewing their bobblehead promotions towards great players or moments in club history. A prominent example can be found in a batch of mid-summer giveaways that will recognize three members of the Hall of Fame Class of 2015: Craig Biggio, Randy Johnson, and John Smoltz.

Johnson will be honored by the Arizona Diamondbacks on July 25 with his own Hall of Fame Bobblehead. The first 25,000 fans through the gates of Chase Field will receive the giveaway, which honors the first player to represent the D-Backs in Cooperstown. Arizona will recognize Johnson again on August 8, when a t-shirt giveaway will be included as part of the retirement ceremony for his number 51.

The Houston Astros will celebrate the induction of Biggio with a bobblehead giveaway on July 31. Available to the first 10,000 fans, that promotion will kick-off a Hall of Fame weekend celebration at Minute Maid Park: Biggio jerseys will be available on August 1, followed the next day with a replica Hall of Fame plaque giveaway. Rounding out the trio of Hall of Fame bobbleheads is the Atlanta Braves’ giveaway for Smoltz, which will take place at Turner Field on August 14. The Braves will make the bobbleheads available to the first 20,000 fans.

Lacking an inductee to honor, several clubs are tapping into other parts of their history. The Cincinnati Reds will hand out three bobbleheads as part of their Stars of the Queen City slate, which begins with Johnny Bench on May 16, followed by Barry Larkin on June 6. The Reds have not named the player who will be honored when the series ends on September 12. All three bobbleheads will be available to the first 25,000 fans at Great American Ballpark.

The history angle is also being employed to celebrate significant anniversaries. The Chicago White Sox are planning a three-part World Series Moments series that celebrate the tenth anniversary of their 2005 title. Bobby Jenks’ save to clinch the title will begin the series on July 4, followed by Scott Podsednick’s walk-off game two homer on August 1, and series MVP Jermaine Dye on August 29.

The Washington Nationals are planning a Great Moments in Nationals History series. Beginning with Livan Hernandez—who started the first game in team history—on May 4, the Nationals will hand out these collectables to the first 25,000 fans at Nationals Park. The player bobbleheads are featured in correspondence with moments that are significant to the club’s history, allowing the team to arrange nights for current team members Ryan Zimmerman (June 4), Stephen Strasburg (July 5), Jayson Werth (August 30), and Jordan Zimmermann (September 25).

Among teams honoring their more recent history, the reigning World Champion San Francisco Giants are planning a Postseason Heroes series. Beginning on May 30 with Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt, and Yusmeiro Petit, the Giants will host two nights in which the first 40,000 fans at AT&T Park will receive one of three bobbleheads that depict a player who made a significant contribution during last year’s playoff run. The promotion’s final installment on June 13 will feature Jeremy Affeldt, Travis Ishikawa, and Joe Panik. Last year’s American League-winning Kansas City Royals are adopting a similar approach, as their schedule includes four postseason bobbleheads: Salvador Perez on May 2, Lorenzo Cain on June 6, Mike Moustakas on June 20, and Yordano Ventura on July 25. All four will be handed out to the first 15,000 fans at Kauffman Stadium.

Another team that is active on the bobblehead front this year is the Chicago Cubs. The team’s giveaway slate markets key figures—including new manager Joe Maddon on June 13 and free agent acquisition Jon Lester on August 22—to what should be an improved team. However, they are also contributing to another interesting theme in bobblehead giveaways: Mascots and notable off-field personnel. Clark the Cubthe mascot introduced by the Cubs last year—will be depicted on a bobblehead available to the first 5,000 fans 13 and under at Wrigley Field on May 31. While Clark’s introduction last winter was met with some scorn from the fans and the media, he is a big part of the Cubs’ marketing: he has his own page on the team’s website and a Twitter account that boasts over 8,600 followers.

Another team honoring one of its mascots is the Milwaukee Brewers, who will hand out Hank the Dog bobbleheads on May 10. Though the promotion is part of the team’s Mother’s Day celebration, the bobblehead will be available to all fans. That promotion is part of a busy year at Miller Park when it comes to non-player bobbleheads. Recently retired commissioner and former team owner Bud Selig will have a bobblehead night on May 31. Later in the year, the Brewers will honor beloved broadcaster Bob Uecker with a Statue Bobblehead on August 9. Uecker will not be the only legendary broadcaster celebrated with his own bobblehead this season: The Los Angeles Dodgers will host a giveaway at Dodger Stadium for Vin Scully on September 23.

Bobbleheads have always had—and will continue to have—a secure place on promotional schedules across baseball. In recent years, however, teams have embraced a worthy and fun counterpart: garden gnomes.

While several teams will depict former and current players, gnomes are a popular way to honor managers. The Pittsburgh Pirates will hand Clint Hurdle garden gnomes to the first 20,000 fans through the gates of PNC Park on May 7. Another up-and-coming team over the last few season that will commemorate their manager in gnome form is the Baltimore Orioles. The first 25,000 fans 15 and over to enter Oriole Park at Camden Yards on July 27 will receive a Buck Showalter gnome.

A pair of clubs are planning gnome nights for their respective Hall of Fame managers. The St. Louis Cardinals will commemorate Whitey Herzog on May 29 by giving out gnomes to the first 25,000 fans 16 and older fans through the gates of Busch Stadium.

It is hard to forecast at this point in the year which giveaways will prove more successful than others, but it seems like a safe bet that the Tommy Lasorda garden gnome will be a popular draw. The Dodgers will honor their legendary skipper—and one of the franchise’s most noted personalities—on May 25 at Dodger Stadium.

When it comes to design, it is hard to compete with the Minnesota TwinsGardy Gnome giveaway last season for then-manager Ron Gardenhire. The Dodgers are making it a close competition, however, with their design for Lasorda. By releasing it early, they are adding some additional hype to what should be a popular promotion.

With these promotions as just a part of a wide variety of bobblehead and gnome giveaways, 2015 should be a good year for collectors at the major league level. Down in the minors, these promotions promise to be even more unique. We will highlight some of the best in Minor League Baseball next week, for part two of this installment of Promotions Watch.

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