Each team's weirdest promotional item ever

They turned *what* into a bobblehead?

May 19th, 2020

Baseball values innovation as much as any industry, and as such, MLB's promotional ideas have gotten wilder and wilder with each passing year. Some of them seem to defy belief: How in the world did a team construct an entire makeshift cornfield? Is that Joey Gallo going yard in a fedora?

But just which weird giveaway is the very weirdest ever? We simply had to know, so we dug up the single craziest item that each Major League team has given away in its history.

AL East

Blue Jays: Derek Bell's car

Bell was just minding his own business, getting ready to start in center field for Toronto's final game of the 1992 regular season, when he heard something odd over the loudspeaker. Surely he must've misheard, he thought. Until he turned around and saw teammate Joe Carter driving his Jeep out onto the field, ready to be raffled off to one lucky fan sitting in section 123.

Sadly it turned out to be a prank, but we'll have that incredulous look on Bell's face forever.

Orioles: The right to play manager for a day

If we're keeping this firmly in Baltimore, there are plenty of options. (Buck Snowalter, maybe, or the Nolan Reimold bobblehead the team handed out two weeks after demoting him to Triple-A.)

But we'll never turn down the opportunity to tell a good Bill Veeck story, so we're going to cheat a little bit: Before becoming the Orioles, the franchise played in St. Louis as the Browns, where they were owned by Veeck -- one of the greatest showmen baseball has ever seen, a man who once brought 3-foot-7 Eddie Gaedel to bat in a Major League game.

Another classic Veeck idea? On Aug. 24, 1951, he allowed a special section of Browns fans behind the home dugout to act as manager during the team's game against the A's -- each fan received two placards, one reading "yes" and the other "no," which they would raise whenever a club official held up a sign asking them a strategic question. (Somehow, the Browns actually won that day, while their regular manager, Zack Taylor, spent the game in a rocking chair.)

Red Sox: Seat cushions

At first glance, this might seem pretty harmless -- seat cushions sound exactly like the sort of thing teams would give out each year. Alas, when Boston decided to give them away prior to a game against the Indians in September 1982, they hadn't thought it all the way through: After the Red Sox broke open the game with two homers in the sixth inning, many fans started tossing their cushions onto the field. Umpires warned the team that the game would have to be forfeited if the downpour continued, leading to an all-timer of an announcement from Fenway PA man Sherm Feller: "Try sitting on the cushions, it’s more comfortable that way."

Rays: The Zim Bear

This is, somehow, exactly what it sounds like. Tampa Bay wanted to honor senior advisor and beloved baseball lifer Don Zimmer, so they did the only obvious thing: They put Zim on a teddy bear.

The Rays gave out 10,000 Zim Bears on June 29, 2012, but it was so popular that the team was forced to bring it back later that year.

Yankees: Reggie! bars

Fresh off his legendary performance in the 1977 World Series, Reggie Jackson was about as big as an athlete could be. So big, in fact, that over the offseason he went where no big leaguer had gone before: onto his very own candy bar.

The bar itself doesn't seem out of the ordinary -- peanuts covered in caramel inside a chocolate shell -- but New York couldn't get enough. The Yankees dubbed their 1978 home opener Reggie! Bar Day, and when Jackson hit a three-run homer in his first at-bat, fans responded by throwing their bars onto the field.

AL Central

Indians: An ode to José Ramirez's helmet

For the uninitiated: José Ramirez has a really, really hard time keeping his helmet on. Pretty much the moment he starts running the bases, it starts flying off. (He even nearly managed to kick it back onto his own head once.) This presented Cleveland with a choice: Ignore their MVP candidate's lovable quirk, or honor it with a bobblehead. Guess which one they went with.

Royals: Blindingly white caps

A small piece of advice: If you're going to give away free caps at the ballpark, make sure that they aren't the same color as a baseball, lest you wreak havoc on your own outfield. The 1987 Royals learned this the hard way: “The white caps given to almost 36,000 fans Sunday looked like a frothing, rolling sea in Royals Stadium," the AP wrote. "Several times, they nearly blinded outfielders to fly balls.”

Poor manager Billy Gardner tried to put it as politely as he could. “Maybe next time we give away hats we can make them blue."

Twins: Joe Mauer sideburns

Over his time in Minnesota, Mauer's sideburns became a bit of A Thing. They even starred in their very own commercial. (Understandably so -- that is some impressive volume.) So, naturally, it was only a matter of time before the Twins gave them away to the people:

Tigers: Zubaz

For reasons that are still a little unclear to me, Detroit celebrated a sweep of the Red Sox in 2014 -- their first in three decades -- by ... dressing up in zubaz.

Just a few days later, the Tigers dubbed it Zubazpalooza at Comerica Park.

White Sox: A groundskeeper bobblehead

Granted, Roger Bossard is no ordinary groundskeeper: Known as "The Sodfather," he's run things for the White Sox since 1983, in addition to consulting for more than a dozen MLB teams. So, yeah, we'd say he deserves to be immortalized with hose and rake in hand.

AL West

A’s: Free cars ... of questionable quality

Former Kansas City A's owner Charlie Finley never met a promotion too crazy to try. He gave fans all sorts of stuff over the years, from livestock to a literal Beatles concert. But his biggest hit might have been Automotive Industry Night, in which he -- with an assist from two-time Indy 500 winner Rodger Ward -- bought some old cars from the junk yard, spiffed them up with some new paint and raffled them off to fans. Of course, he didn't guarantee that they'd actually work: "Sometimes," former head of promotions Jim Schaaf recalled, "the person would get in the car and start driving off, and the car would just break down halfway out of the gate.”

Angels: The Mike Trout hat

The team certainly gets points for not trying to be too clever -- what better way to honor arguably the greatest baseball player of all-time with ... a literal trout on hat?

Astros: Beers with which to troll Mike Schmidt

With Houston's attendance numbers sagging in the mid-70s, Tal Smith came up with an idea. It was pretty simple: A large lightbulb near a digital clock in right field would light up on every even-numbered minute. If an Astro homered while that light was on, it meant one free beer for every adult in the park. For one night in 1976, though, Smith threw in a wrinkle.

Mike Schmidt had already established himself as a superstar, MLB's two-time reigning home run champ en route to a third-place finish in NL MVP voting. Such a superstar, in fact, that Smith altered the rules of his own promotion -- if Schmidt struck out with the light on, everyone would get a free beer. At exactly 9:12, Mike Cosgrove got to two strikes on Schmidt, and after staring in for the sign for what seemed like an eternity -- the entire Astrodome crowd begging him to hurry up -- he threw a fastball by for strike three. In the words of writer Roger Kahn, "grown men sprinted up the aisles."

Mariners: Edgar Martinez's light bat

Over the years, the Mariners have become known for some truly stellar TV spots -- Félix Hernández transforming into "Larry Bernández," Ken Griffey Jr. and Ichiro having a heart to heart, Kyle Seager's fruitless attempts at mastering the hair flip, the list goes on and on.

None of them have anything on Edgar Martinez fashioning a lamp out of a baseball bat, though:

Part of a running series in which Martinez turns his bats into various household items, the light bat slowly grew into a cult favorite -- culminating in an official bobblehead in 2017.

Rangers: Rusty Greer as a rubber duck

I'll be honest, I don't have a lot to add here. Here's nine-year Rangers veteran Rusty Greer as a rubber duck, which the Rangers gave away back in 2002 for some reason:

NL East

Braves: Freddie and Chipper on an ATV

With all due respect to the time they gave away free frisbees only to watch those frisbees inevitably get flung onto the field, Atlanta's finest hour will always and forever be Freddie Freeman and Chipper Jones together on an ATV.

The short version: Freeman got himself stuck in a snowstorm in the winter of 2014 and asked for help on Twitter. To his rescue came Chipper, who drove him home on his ATV:

Two years later, the bobblehead was born.

Marlins: An entire bar mitzvah

Sure, some teams are content to give their fans bobbleheads or bats, but in 1996, the Marlins gave one lucky fan his very own bar mitzvah:

According to Sharfin, his family had been season ticket holders for a few years, so the team gave him a bunch of leftover promo items and told him to go nuts.

Mets: a 24-page comic book

Prior to a game against the hated Braves in 2000, the Mets gave every fan 14 and under a 24-page comic book in which New York's biggest stars foil a villain named Larcenous Vein -- or, in other words, "bad blood" -- who was plotting to blow up the No. 7 subway train. Mike Piazza naturally led the way, rounding up a squad featuring Armando Benitez, Robin Ventura, Edgardo Alfonzo and John Franco -- the latter of whom whacks Vein into outer space with his baseball bat.

Nationals: The Bryce Harper Chia pet

When your hair is that majestic, everyone's going to want to grow their own

Phillies: Hunter Pence's goodbye bobble

Philly had planned a Hunter Pence bobblehead night for August of 2012. They'd already procured 45,000 of the things. One problem: At the non-waiver Trade Deadline that year, the team went ahead and traded Pence to the Giants.

The Phillies decided to go ahead with the giveaway anyway, complete with a thank-you note from Pence inside the box.

NL Central

Brewers: Baseballs

Prior to a game against the Rangers in 1997, Milwaukee decided to give fans free baseballs. Yes, baseballs. You can probably guess what happened next: Many of those balls wound up on the field, although the Brewers and the umpiring crew were able to get things under control enough to prevent the team from forfeiting.

Cardinals: A Stan Musial harmonica

You probably knew that Stan Musial was one of the greatest hitters to ever live. But did you also know that he can absolutely shred on the harmonica?

The team even gave away a version inscribed with Stan the Man's signature to fans in 2013.

Cubs: The first baseball Beanie Baby

In September 1996, Cubs VP of marketing John McDonough sealed a deal with Ty Inc. to manufacture their very own team-specific Beanie Babies. He thought it would be a nice treat for young fans ... until a McDonald's giveaway the next spring helped turn them into the biggest toys in the country.

Chicago's fortuitous timing made it the first big league team to offer a Beanie Baby giveaway, and fans went nuts for them -- you can still find a few on eBay.

Pirates: An extremely controversial Tom Gorzelanny bobblehead

The Pirates wanted to honor Gorzelanny, their best starting pitcher. So they selected a photo of the lefty in mid-windup, to be made into a bobblehead. The problem? The finger poking out of his glove, intended to be his index finger, wound up looking like ... a different finger. (Hey, at least it managed to find its way to the Hall of Fame.)

Reds: A Bronson Arroyo hair hat

In 2007, Cincinnati finally answered the question long on everyone's minds: What if I desperately want to look like Reds starter/extremely chill guitar man Bronson Arroyo, but my hair isn't up for it? The answer, of course: Swing by Great American Ball Park and grab one of these hats.

NL West

D-backs: A luchador mask

Arizona gave away luchador masks to fans at Chase Field back in 2013, and yes, it was as intimidating as it sounds.

Dodgers: A Babe Ruth bobblehead

Yes, Ruth briefly served as Dodgers first-base coach in 1938 -- which is how we wound up with this delightfully jarring bit of memorabilia, given out in 2014:

Giants: A Crazy Crab scarf

While the rest of the baseball world got caught up in the mascot craze of the mid-1980s, the Giants went in the exact opposite direction with Crazy Crab -- less a mascot than an anti-mascot, specifically designed to be heckled and hated by fans. He only lasted one year (the fact that he was pelted with objects so often that his suit had to be reinforced with plexiglass probably didn't help) but his legacy lives on, including a scarf giveaway in 2018.

Padres: A foot rub from Enzo Hernandez

Hernandez manned shortstop for the Padres for much of the 70s, and he must've been quite the catch, because the team apparently held a "Win a foot rub from Enzo Hernandez" night in 1974.

Rockies: Charlie Blackmon's beard

You could tell us anything about Blackmon's legendary beard -- that it has a mind of its own, that it grew in when he was just five years old, that it hides within its depths the long-sought fountain of youth -- and we'd probably believe it. The Blackmon beanies Colorado gave away in 2018 probably won't transfer any of those powers to you, but they will make you look like a lumberjack.