Sunday, July 15, 2018

Hirschbeck Bobblehead Latest Minor League Ump Promo

Operating in smaller markets with shoestring budgets, MiLB teams have to be creative to survive. Enter the Class-A Short Mahoning Valley Scrappers, who held a John Hirschbeck Bobblehead Giveaway over the weekend, honoring an umpire from Poland, Ohio (Cleveland is Mahoning Valley's MLB parent team) who retired from the majors following the 2016 season.

John Hirschbeck bobblehead in Single-A.
The John Hirschbeck bobblehead, given to the first 1,000 fans that attended Saturday's Scrappers game at Eastwood Field, is hardly the first minor league promotion to honor umpires—last season, the Charleston RiverDogs held "Umpire Appreciation Night" during which the Class-A squad from South Carolina gave away 1,000 "bobble-wrists" of an umpire cleaning home plate—but it highlights a key aspect of baseball business, especially at lower levels.

Because minor and independent league teams operate with smaller fanbases and with smaller budgets (hence, only 1,000 items are given away), these clubs must reach out beyond the traditional baseball market to draw in customers.

What this means is while big league clubs can more-or-less afford to coast on the backs of big-market casual fans, big-name sponsors, and popular culture trends de jour, minor and independent league teams have to (1) seek out dedicated baseball folks and/or (2) create their own markets.

Thus, the idea of Umpire Appreciation Night—and the umpire honors go back decades, from Arlington's night honoring NL umpire Frank Walsh (1961-63) for his service, to Bill Haller's Joilet Jackhammers bobblehead, to Bob Motley's bobblehead at the Negro Leagues Museum, to Bruce Froemming's 2013 bobblehead from the Northwoods League's Lakeshore Chinooks, to this Orioles bird umpire bobblehead that must be modeled after Mike Estabrook (due to the plastic helmet atop the bird's head)—takes advantage of a very simple fact: umpires are dedicated to baseball and genuinely enjoy the game.
Related PostMLB History: A Familiar Conflict of Interest (7/14/12).

Bruce Froemming at his bobblehead night.
Though many fans—especially at the popular-to-the-point-of-ignorance MLB level—might say otherwise, the underlying reason why Ump Night exists in the minors is because umpires comprise a key faction of baseball fans that support small-town ball at a level significant enough to merit acknowledgement and thanks.

Yet by the time the game grows to the level of a 40-to 50,000 seat stadium and high-priced regional sports network television deals, the proportion of these hardcore baseball fans—umpires and non-umpires alike—drops dramatically, replaced by the more casual fan that cares not for the intricacies of the game, but simply, whether one's preferred team has won or lost, or even, whether a gambling bet has proven lucrative or costly.

When small town sport is replaced by big market business, appreciation often is lost in translation. It's just a game, after all.
Related PostGambling Ban Reversal Has Joe West Scared "to Death" (5/17/18).


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