Negro League bobbleheads, and how you can help

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The already produced Satchel Paige bobblehead (all images courtesy Phil Sklar/The National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum)

In one of the most unlikely but thoroughly delightful developments within the sports memorabilia culture over the last two or three decades has been the emergence and evolution of the bobblehead. As the calendar turns to 2019, players and other sports personalities know they’ve hit the big time when they receive one of the little keepsakes with the bobbing, oversize noggins.

Couple that with the upcoming celebration the 100th anniversary of the founding of the first Negro National League in 1920, and the time has arrived — well deserved and overdue — for the creation of an officially licensed series of bobbleheads honoring the greats of the Negro Leagues.

As the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City works with the Dreams Fulfilled organization to plan for a celebration of that centennial moment, the two entities have joined with the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum — itself in the final stages of construction and development — located in Milwaukee to produce a line of bobbleheads memorializing the 30 legendary players, one manager and one team owner named the the NLBM’s Negro League Centennial Team, the roster of which was unveiled last year.

To that end, a Kickstarter campaign to fund the creation and production of the bobblehead series was launched Dec. 12 and runs through Jan.7, which gives folks several more days to contribute. A Satchel Paige bobblehead has already been produced, and one for Newark Eagles owner Effa Manley has been designed.

The following is a lightly edited email interview about the bobblehead Kickstarter effort with Phil Sklar, the founder of the bobblehead museum:

Ryan Whirty: What inspired you to launch the series of Negro Leagues bobbleheads?

Phil Sklar: We were approached by Jay Caldwell, the founder of NegroLeaguesHistory.com, about collaborating on a series of Negro Leagues bobbleheads. He is leading the effort related to the special exhibit at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum for the Negro Leagues centennial in 2020 and wanted bobbleheads to play a prominent role. We really liked the idea, and I’ve always been interested in learning more about the Negro Leagues since going to Kansas City as a teenager and having an opportunity to go to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.

RW: Why do you think there’s been an extreme dearth so far of Negro Leagues bobbleheads? Are you hoping to fill a much-needed niche with this project?

PS: I think there are a few reasons. The first is that bobbleheads weren’t being produced back when the Negro Leaguers were playing. However, there weren’t bobbleheads when Babe Ruth, Willie Mays and other legends were playing, and many of those Hall of Famers have a dozen bobbleheads or more. Just under half of the players in the Centennial Series have had a bobblehead before, but many of those bobbleheads weren’t readily available. A few teams have honored Negro Leaguers with bobbleheads and the NLBM has produced several, but in general, a very small number of Negro Leagues players have had bobbleheads.  

Effa Manley Bobblehead

The design for the Effa Manley bobblehead

RW: How has the Kickstarter campaign gone so far? Are you optimistic that you’ll reach your goal?

PS: The campaign has been excellent so far! We hit our initial $10,000 goal within 24 hours of launching the campaign and are now approaching $60,000, which is our second stretch goal. Although we were thrilled to reach the goal so soon, the full cost of producing 500 of each legend featured in the Centennial Series is over $100,000, and a production run of at least 500 enables us to offer the bobbleheads at a reasonable retail price so more people can afford them.

The organizers agreed to take on this risk if the Kickstarter reached the $10,000 goal, but going over the goal will help alleviate this burden, enable us to produce additional bobbleheads featuring other teams and players, and promote the series more broadly. Our first stretch goal was $40,000, and since we hit that goal, we’ll be producing the first bobblehead of [Newark Eagles owner] Effa Manley, who is the only female member of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

RW: How are the players and managers to be represented in the bobblehead series going to be chosen? How can readers and the rest of the public participate in the selection process?

PS: The Negro League Centennial Team (1920 – 2020) will be comprised of 30 of the greatest African-American and Cuban players from 1895-1947 plus a manager and a team owner. Each individual will be depicted on a baseball-shaped base with replica of Kansas City’s Paseo YMCA, the site where the Negro National League was organized on Feb. 13, 1920. Satchel Paige was the first player selected to the Centennial team, and his bobblehead has been completed. Paige will be joined by 10 additional pitchers, three catchers, five outside infielders (1B, 3B), three inside infielders (2B, SS), seven outfielders, one utility player, a manager and an owner. The selected players were voted on through an on-line poll and supplemented by a selection of five additional, deserving players.

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The National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum is preparing to open to the public

RW: What is the status of the Bobblehead Museum? How close are you to opening, and what still needs to be done?

PS: The Hall of Fame and Museum has been set up for several months, and we’re just putting some finishing touches on it while we wait for the final city permits. We were delayed by the need to install a sprinkler system, and that process should be done next week! We have a preview event for members Jan. 5 and 6, and we’ll be opening to the public in January and will have a grand opening in the spring. The collection is approaching 10,000 unique bobbleheads and growing daily. We have about 6,500 of those on display with the ability to rotate and have special exhibits.

RW: Why do you think bobbleheads in general have become so popular in America and across the world? What about them appeals to fans and collectors?

PS: I think bobbleheads have become so popular because they’re affordable, fun, and they appeal to virtually everyone. They often appreciate in value, which makes collecting them an even more attractive hobby. We see all age groups collecting and enjoying bobbleheads, and that’s likely due to the affordability — a majority of bobbleheads are “free” since fans receive them when going to a game.

For more information on or to contribute to the Negro League bobblehead Kickstarter effort, go here. To check out the The National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum, use this link. The Negro League Baseball Museum Facebook page is here. Finally, check out the Dreams Fulfilled effort here.

Read an article about the Negro League bobbleheads in the Kansas City Star here and one written by the Associated Press posted on ESPN.com as well.

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