- The Washington Times - Friday, July 27, 2001

Any serious sports memorabilia collector can find dozens of items once belonging to Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle or nearly any other Hall of Famer. All it takes is an Internet connection and a checkbook.

But this year, the hottest names among collectors include Lee Corso, Kent Hrbek and Lin Dunn.

Who?

The ESPN college football broadcaster, retired Minnesota Twins slugger and Seattle Storm coach are among hundreds of sports personalities now immortalized on bobbleheads, by far the hottest sports collectible.

The 7-inch ceramic dolls each with an enlarged, caricature-like head attached by a metal spring to a narrow body are sparking some of the most feverish and deranged behavior among collectors this side of Beanie Babies.

In about 20 major league parks this season, bobblehead giveaways have generated overnight campouts, fistfights, line cutting and assorted acts of grift. And that's just for bobbleheads of low-tier stars like Chicago White Sox outfielder Magglio Ordonez.

Bobbleheads of superstars like Derek Jeter, Allen Iverson and Mark McGwire are fetching as much as $500 on Internet auction sites and in private collector sales and, for now, supporting full-time jobs for several national dealers.

The area will get its first taste of 2001 bobblehead mania Tuesday when the Baltimore Orioles give away Brady Anderson dolls to the first 12,500 fans aged 14 and under. The Orioles had a similar giveaway for Cal Ripken bobbleheads last summer, but that was just before the cottage industry exploded.

"It's just gone totally crazy, far beyond anything we expected," said Jay Deutsch, president of Bensussen Deutsch & Associates Inc., the Washington state-based company that is one of two leading bobblehead manufacturers. "At once it's a new category for younger collectors and a nostalgia item for older ones who remember when they were popular before [in the 1960s]."

Designed initially as a kitsch promotion to bring fans to ballparks, much like the ubiquitous Cap Day or Water Bottle Night, bobbleheads have become much more.

Pregame lines exceeding 10,000 for bobbleheads have sprung up in Chicago, Minneapolis, Cleveland, Milwaukee and other cities, complete with waits beyond 24 hours, shoving, intense physical jockeying and bribes for prime line position. The Iverson giveaway last winter in Philadelphia, like that of the Orioles', was designed strictly for children. The decision sparked a near-riot and even prompted some pregnant women to ask for the bobblehead as an advance gift for their children.

In Minneapolis, Wally Szczerbiak bobbleheads were given away last winter with numbered cards and a halftime drawing. It was seemingly a fair and fun way to distribute the dolls until hundreds of counterfeit cards bearing the winning number tilted the supply-and-demand balance far out of control.

Even the bobblehead makers don't know what to make of the behavior.

"I'm a country boy from Australia. This is all a bit interesting, to say the least," said Malcolm Alexander, president of Alexander Global Promotions, another bobblehead producer based in Washington state. The company started the modern run of bobbleheads two years ago with a Willie Mays doll for the San Francisco Giants.

"But a friend of mine recently waited in line for hours for a bobblehead," Alexander said. "I found out afterward and told him he should have called me. I might have been able to help him out. But he said he wanted the experience, the thrill of the chase. These queues are often like parties. It's almost like tailgating to some people."

The Orioles, for their part, want little of the madness. The Anderson doll will be limited to children, unlike most other bobblehead giveaways, and no overnights at Camden Yards are expected.

"We're not looking for any crazy scene. This is simply a good giveaway for our younger fans, and Brady's a popular player among that group," said Matt Dryer, the club's director of sales. "We're expecting a crowd of about 40,000, and for a Tuesday night against Tampa we're absolutely ecstatic with that."

With bobbleheads now wildly successful in baseball, both Alexander and Deutsch are lining up new contracts with NBA, WNBA, NFL, NHL, NASCAR and minor league baseball teams and the PGA Tour nearly as fast as they can process them. Alexander alone will produce more than 1 million bobbleheads.

This fall also will see issues for more than 40 college mascots, including the Stanford University tree and the ESPN college football announcing team of Corso, Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit. Many of them will hit retail outlets, such as grocery stores.

Arguably superfluous creations like that show bobblehead mania has gone off the tracks, some collectors say. While expertly created dolls of the tattooed Iverson and other major stars appear destined for some long-term value, most bobbleheads have died a quiet death.

Even with the current Cal Ripken memorabilia rush stemming from his forthcoming retirement, Ripken bobbleheads are widely available for less than $20.

"Anything made to be collectible never will be in the long run that's the credo I live by," said Tim Hunter, a Reno, Nev.-based bobblehead dealer who trades primarily in vintage issues. "The numbers alone punch a hole in all of this. Every one of these 20,000-piece giveaways pretty much outnumbers the total surviving population of the old ones. If I were looking to sell, I would do it as soon as possible." There already are four EBay auctions preselling the Brady Anderson bobbleheads, with top bids reaching $36.

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