In several different places here on CBS Sports, I've noted that this is the first "normal" start to a Major League Baseball season since 2019. While every season is unique, by simple definition of a word far too often used incorrectly (tsk, tsk), 2020 was a major departure and 2021 was still affected. Then came last season, which was delayed due to the offseason lockout. Finally, now in 2023, we are all the way back.
In addition to many other things, it means I'm back to being able to look at a full schedule of promotional giveaways for all 30 teams, formerly an annual tradition that we are now resurrecting.
The process here is exhaustive but also simple. I sort through every single promotional giveaway to fans attending games for each team, ending up with a best for each team. Then I rank the 30 teams by their best. This isn't a ranking by which team has the best overall calendar nor is it a ranking of the 30 best (some teams would have multiple giveaways in the top 20). It is also an entirely subjective effort by one person. There will be disagreements.
I could see a complaint that I'm too heavy on bobbleheads, but those are generally the best promotional giveaways at ballparks. I'll stray when necessary, but I'm not going to go away from the best ones just because we have too many bobbleheads listed.
May 4 - Star Wars Mark Kotsay Mandalorian bobblehead
The A's have finished first in this thing in the past, but this season the promotional calendar was pretty barren, at least regarding giveaways. As we'll see much later in the rankings here, I love Star Wars and especially love using the theme in a baseball crossover. The problem here is that they don't have any star-caliber players to use and instead go with the non-descript manager (no offense to Kotsay, but even the most well-known managers aren't drawing crowds like the players further down this list with Star Wars tie-ins). Also, the picture on the A's website is so small and tightly-cropped that I can't even tell if the bobblehead is well done or not -- which is to say maybe it should be ranked higher. I just don't know. It is, however, the only thing with promise on this calendar.
June 18 - Nicky & Vinnie Double Bobblehead
Overall not a stellar promotional calendar, but there are a few bobbleheads (Bobby Witt, Jr. on Opening Day!). The winner here doesn't say the last names, but that would be backup infielder Nicky Lopez and first baseman Vinnie Pasquantino. I'm intrigued by the "double" part here. Most likely it's just the two dudes standing on the same platform, which in and of itself is good. It just doesn't make a huge dent on this list. It's a loaded list.
June 17/Aug. 12 - Racing presidents bobbleheads
The Nats did the best they could here with the current state of the team. There are bobbleheads for what they hope are their three future stars in Josiah Gray, C.J. Abrams and Keibert Ruiz, scattered through the season. I like the racing presidents ones with a pair on each, though, for my pick. It's Teddy and Abe on June 17 and George and Tom on Aug. 12.
Aug. 26 - Félix Bautista bobblehead
Relative to most other teams, it's a pretty barren calendar from the Orioles and that's especially maddening coming off a breakthrough season when the fans should be excited. I guess it would cost ownership too much money. The runner-up here is pretty great (Eddie Murray 1983 World Series bobblehead on Aug. 5) and I'm holding out hope there's some sort of Omar/"The Wire" tie-in with Bautista (scroll down to the bullpen section in here if you don't know why). Past these two, it's lacking.
I will say, though, if there's a strong tie-in, this piece would skyrocket up the rankings, maybe even hit the top five. This ranking is based on it being a normal bobblehead of a good closer.
April 2 - Corey Seager powder blue replica jersey
It was a tough decision between this one and the July 14 Rangers Retired Numbers cap, but I'm a sucker for the powder blues. Pretty light offering overall. They could do a lot better by the fans.
25. Red Sox
April 3 - Carita '11' jumbo necklace
Overall, the Red Sox have one of the lightest promotional giveaway schedules and that's very likely a product of not needing more to sell tickets than Fenway Park itself. Still, this item does seem pretty cool. Carita would be the nickname of star third baseman Rafael Devers, who signed an extension to stay in Boston long term this past offseason. Eleven, obviously, is his number.
May 20 - Lou Seal splash hits counter bobblehead
There's a decent variety here with some good bobbleheads (Logan Webb, for example) and I love the Kruk and Kuip tiki mugs (June 25), but the interactive feature on the mascot kayaking in McCovey Cove with the splash hits counter is something unique to the ballpark. It's fun, just nothing that'll blow you away.
Roberto Clemente "21" hat - Sept. 15
This is about as high as a hat can rank. Otherwise the pick would've been the Oneil Cruz bobblehead (June 3), though strong consideration was also being given to the David Bednar bobblehead on July 29 because it also says it's "Yinzerpalooza" and that piqued my interest. But the Clemente hat just being plain black all over except for the white circle around a yellow 21 is an outstanding touch.
June 9 - Dick Allen bobblehead
This is a really nice bobblehead of a man who won MVP for the Phillies and should be a Hall of Famer, in my view. The schedule here was pretty light, especially for adults. There was a Kyle Schwarber jersey and Alec Bohm cooling headband -- and whatever a Bryce Harper funko premium vinyl figure is -- but those were all just for ages 14 and under. There's an NL champs pennant and T-shirt, too. It just wasn't quite the effort given by the other pennant winner from last year.
Legends statue bobbleheads (various)
There's a series of bobbleheads of the statues that sit around the ballpark (Fergie Jenkins, Billy Williams, Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Harry Caray) and any of them would be fantastic additions to any collection. But that's basically it for the gate giveaways. Otherwise there's a picnic blanket, winter hat and luggage tag. There are zero giveaways involving the current team or anyone who has played for the team since the '70s unless you purchase a special ticket package.
May 13 - Mystery Gold Glove
I could go either way between this one and the Larry Doby hat (with what appears to be a replica autograph on the bill) from July 5. These two are head and shoulders above the rest on a calendar heavy on promotions but light on giveaways. Here's the description from May 13: Fans will receive a replica Gold Glove trophy for one of the Guardians' four Gold Glove winners: Shane Bieber, Andrés Giménez, Steven Kwan or Myles Straw.
June 25 - Sandy Alcantara bobblehead
There's a possibility this is ranked too low. The Marlins haven't unveiled what the bobblehead looks like yet and if there's a tie-in to him winning the first Cy Young in franchise history, he'd get a big bump here. This ranking is the baseline.
It was also an easy choice. Aside from that, there were two mystery bobbleheads, a 1997 and 2003 World Series champions hoodie, a reversible floppy hat, a Jeff Conine jersey and a "tropical" shirt that is sponsored by ... well, you just have to look at this thing.
June 3 - Joey Votto bobblehead, with a twist
Regarding the future of the club, there's a Hunter Greene baseball card on June 2 and a Nick Lodolo bobblehead on Sept. 9. Bronson Arroyo's Reds Hall of Fame bobblehead on July 15 looks pretty cool, too. I'll go with the Votto bobble, though, because this seems like the last season in Cincinnati for the Reds legend and there are also special gold editions of the bobble randomly mixed in to 1,900 fans (for Votto's number, 19).
July 7 - Carlos Correa bobblehead
Aside from the winner here, the best options are Byron Buxton replica jersey (April 22) and a Correa bat (April 23; I'll assume a miniature, because 5,000 people walking around with a life-sized bat seems like a problem waiting to tappen). It isn't a great schedule, but Correa's cool enough.
April 2 - Zim Bear bobblehead
The Rays might have the best variety in the league. There are lots of different hats, a pickleball paddle, Brandon Lowe "dawg" tags, some Devil Rays socks, a reversible bucket hat that is Devil Rays on one side and Rays on the other, Wade Boggs can coolers (aka "koozies") and a Shane McClanahan bobblehead. Once I saw the picture of the Don Zimmer "Zim Bear" bobble, though, the race was over.
July 29 - Kris Bryant Jedi bobblehead
This might be the worst overall calendar of giveaways from a team. It's this entry, a Todd Helton jersey, a Charlie Blackmon bobblehead and then a trucker hat or City Connect beach towel. Still, it's always great to use a star player as a Jedi and I'm calling for a big Bryant bounce-back season, which means this thing will be a hot commodity come late July.
April 14 - "The Clinch" Cal Raleigh bobblehead
Some good ones in here. The Julio Rodríguez bobblehead is a must-have and Félix Hernández Hall of Fame bobblehead comes on his Mariners Hall of Fame induction weekend in August. I'm generally going to be partial to the giveaways that commemorate signature moments. The Mariners had the longest playoff drought in baseball before Raleigh's walkoff homer last September clinched a wild card. This one even has the date on it.
April 22 - Zac Gallen scoreless streak bobblehead
Not a stacked schedule overall, but a strong top entry for the Snakes. I'm a big fan of bobbleheads in general, as we've established, but I especially become a fan when there's a specific element to them. A Gallen bobble on its own is cool, but wouldn't be ranked this high. You work in the 44.1 inning scoreless streak and it vaults up a few spots. That's fun.
April 13 - Juan Soto Shuffle bobblehead
Now we're talking, San Diego. Several years ago, I scolded the Padres for having the worst promotional giveaway game in baseball. They now have a Trevor Hoffman replica '89 jersey (April 18), Manny Machado City Connect bobblehead (May 15), a Joe Musgrove bucket hat (May 2), a Xander Bogaerts City Connect jersey (Sept. 18) and several other bobbleheads. Great job in turning the franchise around in more ways than one here. I'll go with the Soto Shuffle because it sets him apart from an ordinary bobble while also spotlighting my pick for NL MVP.
11. White Sox
May 13 - Eloy Jiménez "Hi Mom!" talking bobblehead
Kind of sub-par overall from the White Sox, but a stellar winner. Jiménez routinely says "hi" to his mother on camera (see here) and this is a talking bobblehead on Mother's Day weekend (it's Saturday, not Sunday, but I'm guessing it's easier to sell tickets on Mother's Day than Eve, so it makes sense -- plus there's the added benefit of getting one Saturday night and gifting it to a mother on Sunday!). A talking bobblehead is a cut above a normal one, too.
April 1 - Jeremy Peña World Series MVP bobblehead
The champs have it easy early in the season, because they can just load up on World Series gear. Sure enough, the Astros give away a replica World Series trophy (March 31) and replica rings from three different players in the early going. Of course, there's also a flip side of being so good, which is that later in the season, the marketing department doesn't need giveaways to get fans to the park. The schedule gets a bit light. Other than the World Series stuff, Framber Valdez consecutive start bobblehead (April 14) is a great one. I really like the look of the Peña bobble, though.
May 12 - Anthony Rizzo Mandalorian bobblehead
A stacked calendar includes stuff like a 1998 replica World Series ring (it's the 25th anniversary of that legendary team), a ridiculous Satchel Paige bobblehead (here; he pitched for the "Black Yankees") and so much more, including even Frank Sinatra bobbleheads. I do wonder why the Bucky Dent bobblehead doesn't come in a game against the Red Sox, but whatever. I just can't help a good Star Wars crossover. This Rizzo/Mando one is beautiful. Also, going back to the A's ranking explanation, take note of how we get to see the whole picture here instead of just a headshot. Much better marketing.
April 21 - BB-8 & Mike Trout bobblehead
It's easy to be outstanding in this department when you have Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout. The Angels didn't disappoint. The calendar is loaded with a variety of items and is heavy with Ohtani and Trout. The Ohtani 13 strikeouts bobblehead (April 8, he's holding 13 baseballs) is amazing, but, to reiterate, I'm a total sucker for combining Star Wars and baseball in promotions so we go with Obi-Trout and BB-8.
May 20 - Francisco Lindor grass-growing bobblehead
The bobblehead game is very strong with this club. There's an Edwin Diaz trumpet bobble, a radio broadcaster Howie Rose "sound" bobblehead (May 30), Starling Marte as Black Panther (June 26) and Mr. Met as Indiana Jones (June 27). Any would be great choices, but I'm intrigued by the "growing" part here, especially since it looks like maybe Lindor's hair is involved.
April 1 - Molina/Pujols Mystery Pitching bobblehead
It's a nice and full calendar, with stuff like Nolan Arenado Cycle bobblehead (April 14), Yadi tumbler (May 19), Adam Wainwright London Series bobblehead (June 11), Albert Pujols 703 bobblehead (July 15), Paul Goldschmidt MVP bobblehead (Aug. 4) and Ozzie Smith Wizard bobblehead (Sept. 16) among others. I like the twist on this one, though. Both Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina retired as Cardinals after last season, as we know, but they also both appeared as pitchers for the first time last season. These are pitching bobbleheads and you won't know which one you get until opening the box.
Fernandomania - Aug. 12-13
Year-in, year-out it would be fair to argue the Dodgers are the best in baseball at loading up the promotional giveaway schedule. This season there are Jackie Robinson and Vin Scully jerseys in addition to bobbleheads from a handful of relevant current players (though the Gavin Lux one looks unfortunate now) in addition to Orel Hershiser. I'm going with Fernando Valenzuela here, though, based upon the circumstances. His jersey number is being retired on Aug. 11 and that clears the way to a Fernando bobblehead on the 12th and 1981 Fernando World Series ring replica on Aug. 13. The craze around Valenzuela in 1981 that resulted in a Rookie of the Year, Cy Young award, World Series title helped to shape future generations of Dodgers fandom, and that all goes into the meaning behind these giveaways and give a serious bump.
April 8 - Giannis Antetokounmpo Brewers City Connect Jersey
Excellent mixing here from the Brewers. They've got stuff like a Christian Yelich "patriotic" jersey on Memorial Day weekend, a Yelich tumbler (April 22), an Indiana Jones version of a Craig Counsell bobblehead (June 17) and then basics like a William Contreras bobblehead or a hat or jersey. In a world-class crossover, though, they've got a Giannis basketball jersey just in time for the NBA playoffs, only it says "Brew Crew" in the team spot and has the Brewers M/B glove/ball logo on it. It's gorgeous. What an incredible job. It barely beats out the "Ueck Skywalker" bobblehead from May 13. Oh and check out the City Connect flag from June 10. If there was a team winner for the full calendar, I think the Brewers would be the pick.
June 10 - Miggy Milestones bobblehead
As I was scrolling down this calendar, the leaders in the clubhouse were the Javier Báez sunglasses and Riley Greene floppy hat, but then we stumbled upon one of the best giveaways of the season, regardless of team. This will be the final season for future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera. He's won two MVPs, a triple crown, seven Silver Sluggers and four batting titles. He has over 3,000 hits and 500 home runs. A few of those things are on this one. On sentiment, this was the leader in the clubhouse and a strong argument could be made for it to be No. 1. It's just that two of these knocked it out of the park.
2. Blue Jays
Aug. 12 - Jose Bautista Bat Flip bobblehead
Really strong effort here on the whole by the Jays. There's a Kevin Gausman "split" jersey (it's half home, half road; giveaway June 28) along with a Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Gold Glove bobblehead (he's doing the splits on a stretch at first base; April 12) and a Jordan Romano/Danny Jansen handshake bobble (April 24). The choice was obvious, though, as Bautista's legendary bat flip is depicted quite well. I really hope the bat can spin around so this thing can be played with.
July 19 - Ron Gant '93 Pressbox Fire bobblehead
Top to bottom, the Braves have stacked this thing. There's a Money Mike Harris piggybank, a hometown bobblehead series with the likes of Matt Olson, Kyle Wright and Austin Riley. There's an A.J. Minter cowboy hat bobblehead and a Fred McGriff Hall of Fame bobblehead. There's a Ronald Acuña, Jr. chain.
The Gant bobble is an easy pick for the best giveaway of the season in all of baseball, though.
The #Braves have a huge lineup of bobblehead giveaways for 2023, but a Ron Gant 1993 pressbox fire at Atlanta Fulton County Stadium one?— Grant McAuley (@grantmcauley) February 28, 2023
(📷 @braves) pic.twitter.com/EWJLagVnWF
The 30th anniversary of the fire is the night after the giveaway. It's also the night McGriff joined the Braves. They were nine games out of first place then. They won the night of the fire and went 51-17 the rest of the way, winning the division on the final day of the regular season -- and that's when there weren't wild cards, so the 103-win Giants were eliminated. McGriff hit more homers and drove home more runs with the Braves than any other team he played with.
Even though it's a Gant bobblehead, this seems like the perfect homage to McGriff on the summer when he's inducted into the Hall of Fame. Plus, he has his own bobble anyway.
Just incredible work from the Braves here. They win the individual giveaway championship.