CINCINNATI -- A few heads might have been shaking initially at the idea of a bunch of nodders taking over the Reds Hall of Fame and Museum, but the new bobblehead exhibit already seems to be a hit.
The bobblehead exhibit opened March 4 and now features 700 items — baseball and non-baseball related — preserved from past Reds ballpark or Hall of Fame giveaways and donated or loaned by other Major League Baseball organizations, local sports fans and general collectors.
Reds Hall of Fame and Museum Executive Director Rick Walls said he expects the exhibit, which currently is located on the first floor, to expand to at least 1,000 bobbleheads as more are found or brought in. The museum crowdsources through social media to help find new ones.
“I think some people when they heard about it, they were thinking this isn't that great, but we were looking for something new,” Walls said. “We've covered a lot of the championship teams and iconic players over the years, so we just wanted to do something different.”
Reds Hall of Fame curator Chris Eckes said the inspiration for the exhibit came from the “tremendous enthusiasm” fans have shown for bobblehead giveaways at Great American Ball Park or the Hall.
Since the San Francisco Giants introduced the first bobblehead stadium giveaway in 1999 — Willie Mays was the first one — bobbles have been the No. 1 promotional item at stadiums and arenas across the country. They’re collected as baseball cards once were collected.
The Reds have produced 1.6 million bobbles since 2001, when the first of their 59 giveaways to date took place, and the Reds Hall has produced 22 bobbleheads for giveaways.
However, Eckes was surprised to learn how many different kinds of bobbleheads there are outside of sports figures. The museum’s collection features everything from musicians and other entertainers to historical figures and authors, like Edgar Allen Poe and Mark Twain.
“The more you dig in you start finding a seemingly limitless array of bobblehead types and styles,” Eckes said. “That told us how pervasive this collecting has become and how they really have become pop culture touchstones. We thought it would be a disservice if we limited it to baseball or Reds bobbleheads, because to tell the story, it goes way beyond that.”
The museum’s items are organized by theme, with the core of the exhibit being the Reds bobbles and vintage Mr. Redlegs bobbleheads dating to the introduction of the collectible as a novelty item in the early 1960s.
Starting in April, fans can vote for their favorite Reds bobblehead at www.RedsMuseum.org.
There also is a section for local favorites, which include any bobbleheads with a local connection, such as the Bengals, Xavier Musketeers and Cincinnati Cyclones.
Walls said the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame, which is in the process of being built in Milwaukee, lent some items to help the museum get started. Now the Reds museum is on a quest to find the oldest, best and most unique bobbles out there.
“The key for us is to kind of share with everyone how this collecting phenomenon and the creation of these bobbleheads impacted the baseball industry, and how the industry also popularized bobbleheads and really brought it to the forefront and how now it's a fun thing associated to the game,” said Walls, who noted that the bobbles also can be educational tools to help teach kids about the history of baseball.
“It's not unlike how baseball cards were in a greater time. It's an inexpensive way to feel connected to a team or to start a collection and easy to display and show. It doesn't matter your age; you can have fun with it. It’s something everyone can enjoy.”
Justin Jorgensen, a 33-year-old Liberty Township resident, said the Reds always have done a good job of being family friendly, but the bobbleheads drew his family to the Hall for the first time all together. He and his wife, Allison, brought their 4-year-old son, Ayden, and 1-year-old daughter to see the exhibit soon after it opened.
“I have a couple bobbleheads in the basement that the kids like, so we thought it would be something they would enjoy,” Jorgensen said. “My son loved the giant (8-foot) Mr. Redlegs (bobble) and went through and looked at all of the bobbleheads on display. My daughter doesn’t really talk yet, but she was even signing ‘more.’ It’s a good exhibit.”
The exhibit is scheduled to last through the rest of the year, with a goal of helping the Hall top 100,000 visitors in 2016. It averages about 80,000 visitors per year, but Walls said attendance already has seen a little “uptick” since the bobblehead exhibit opened.
The potential for tie-in events, like autograph sessions of the celebrity depicted by a bobblehead and bobblehead swap nights at the ballpark, also should help draw attention to the exhibit, Walls said.
“There are just so many different ways to go with this, and one of our challenges is: Where do you stop, or do you?” Walls said. “Is this going to be so popular we want to keep doing it after the year, where we don't want to take it down? The interest is high, and we’re excited.”