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Bobbleheads a trend that never ends for fans, teams

AT THE NODDING HEAD Brewery and Restaurant on Sansom Street is a glass case that is a wonder to behold. In it sits every bobblehead figurine you could possibility think of: Snap, Crackle and Pop; Cheech and Chong and - for local flavor - Harry and Whitey,

The Roy Halladay bobblehead is the latest addition to the fad that has a persistent connection to baseball. (Alejandro A. Alvarez / Staff Photographer)
The Roy Halladay bobblehead is the latest addition to the fad that has a persistent connection to baseball. (Alejandro A. Alvarez / Staff Photographer)Read more

AT THE NODDING HEAD Brewery and Restaurant on Sansom Street is a glass case that is a wonder to behold. In it sits every bobblehead figurine you could possibility think of: Snap, Crackle and Pop; Cheech and Chong and - for local flavor - Harry and Whitey, the late but always beloved Phillies broadcasting team of Harry Kalas and Richie Ashburn. Up on a shelf behind the bar are dozens more and, according to co-owner Curt Decker, hundreds more are in storage, including duplicates and some just not worthy of going into the rotation.

One soon-to-be acquired addition that is certain to be displayed is Roy Halladay, whose bobblehead will be given away to fans this evening at Citizens Bank Park. Decker says he "absolutely" plans to there, just as he always has been whenever the Phillies have run a bobblehead promotion. But exactly who Decker plans to remove from the rotation in favor of Halladay is unclear: Perhaps Mr. Bill . . . or Speed Racer . . . or Pee-wee Herman. Customers have been exchanging bobbleheads for a pint of beer for years at the Nodding Head, which Decker says was named that in 1999 only because one of his partners had had a recurring dream of a vintage bobblehead in the rear window of a car.

"It has been a cool phenomenon," he says. "People bring them in and we do give them a pint, but only if it happens to be an unusual one. We do not need any more of Donovan McNabb coming out of the Vet. We have a million of them."

Bobbleheads (or, as they are also called, "nodders") have been a popular giveaway for sports organizations for years, and have endured while other promotional ideas have come and gone. The craze began in 1999 when the San Francisco Giants did a giveaway of a Willie Mays bobblehead to mark their final season at Candlestick Park. In step with a trend that would sweep across not just sports but corporate America and elsewhere, the Phillies began doing bobblehead giveaways on May 20, 2001: Kids 14 & under received a Pat Burrell Bobbing Head Doll that Sunday at Veterans Stadium. The Eagles, Flyers and Sixers also have participated in bobblehead promotions, either as stadium giveaways or with other partners.

Attendance has jumped whenever there was a bobblehead giveaway, according to Scott Brandreth, the Phillies' director of merchandising. At the Vet, the average attendance on those eight dates was 47,423 - which twice included crowds of more than 60,000 (for the Steve Carlton and Mike Schmidt bobblehead giveaways in 2003, albeit that could have also been because the Phillies were playing the Red Sox). The Phillies generally did their giveaways on Sundays at the Vet, but altered that strategy once they moved into Citizens Bank Park in 2004, where the average attendance for a dozen bobblehead giveaways has been 43,787. Brandreth said the bobblehead giveaways were scheduled to shore up weeknight attendance against lesser teams. All the dates have drawn more than 40,000 fans with the exception of the Jamie Moyer NL East Champions Bobble Figurine on April 30, 2008. The Phillies were competing that evening against a Flyers home playoff game, as they will be tonight.

Given that the Phillies are selling out dates with regularity, Brandreth says it can be hard to assess if any particular promotion is working better than others. But he did say that he does see a spike in advance ticket sales for bobblehead giveaways - including the one for Carlos Ruiz scheduled for Aug. 24. With the exception of Jayson Werth and Shane Victorino - who has had two Hawaiian-themed dolls but "not a traditional" nodder - each of the key Phillies players has had bobbleheads - including Ryan Howard and Chase Utley twice. Brandreth says he tries not to repeat players too often, which is something other teams have done. The Seattle Mariners have produced an Ichiro Suzuki nodder for 10 years running. And the Sixers have done a handful of Allen Iverson bobbleheads, although their most unique effort was a Kyle Korver bobblehead with a mop of hair.

Why have nodders become such a big deal? According to Dr. Joe Mahan, assistant professor at the Sport Industry Research Center at Temple University, the teams like them because they are "a safe promotion," which is to say that they do not incite the havoc that Nickel Beer Night has caused. He adds that fans like them because they can be used as not just decorative items but also as a sign of allegiance to their team that can be displayed at the office less obtrusively than a pennant or a poster. But Mahan adds: "If you have a bad product, you can give away all the bobbleheads you want and no one will come."

But just because bobbleheads are popular is not to say that they are also valuable. According to Ted Taylor, a sports-collectible expert, only vintage nodders from the 1960s tend to hold any value. Largely, they were bobbleheads that depicted some aspect of the team itself as opposed to individual players. Some of the older bobbleheads can go for as high as $1,000 or more. But Taylor says the problem with the nodders that have come out since the 1990s is that there are far too many of them. Brandreth corroborates that by saying that there will be some 43,000 Halladay nodders given out this evening. Although the giveaway was once limited to children, Brandreth says it was open to all fans a few years ago to prevent adults from trying to buy them from youngsters.

Taylor says the plethora of bobbleheads available is exactly the problem. "Every team has just been cranking them out," Taylor says. "In the catalog there are 13 pages of bobbleheads in small type."

Taylor pauses and adds with a chuckle, "I have a Pat Burrell one you can have."

A cursory scan yesterday of eBay bears Taylor out. At one point during the day, there were 3,690 bobbleheads up for auction, including a "Rare Salt Lake City Eagles Nodder Bobble Head" from the 1960s at an initial asking price of $900. (The Salt Lake City Eagles were a hockey team.) There were no bids. However, a nodder of former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor had been bid up to $455, with former colleague David Souter just behind her at $177.50 and current justice Antonin Scalia at $102.50. Interestingly, 15 Roy Halladay bobbleheads also were up for auction, presumably from fans planning to attend the game and quickly part with Roy. The highest price was $26.

Taylor adds, "You and I will not live to see the day that it will be scarce."

So what do you end up doing with them?

Display them on your desk?

Give them to your 2-year-old (which assures the item will end up headless)?

Or just pass them along to the Nodding Head in exchange for a quenching beverage (remember, it has to be unusual)? But you never know what the proprietors will end up doing with it. A Scalia nodder that someone gave them ended up in the garbage. A George W. Bush bobblehead ended up without a head, which Decker explained by saying: "What did he need it for? He never used it." And a Kobe Bryant figurine ended up being smashed by a customer who won a raffle during the 2001 NBA Finals - all that remains is the base and his ankles.

And then there is Penguins star Sidney Crosby.

Decker says he pinned a paper skirt on him.

And plans to change his name to "Cindy."