Bobblehead collection SRO at Minute Maid Park

Updated: September 20, 2007, 12:28 PM ET
Associated Press

HOUSTON -- By popular demand, there is a population explosion in the visitors' clubhouse at Minute Maid Park. The wall of fame in the office of Steve Perry, the Astros' visiting clubhouse manager, is standing room only.

Bobblehead dolls are spreading like kudzu.

Bobbleheads of Roger Clemens, Nolan Ryan and Roy Oswalt. Bobbleheads of Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio and Lance Berkman. Bobbleheads of Brad Ausmus and Brad Lidge, of Richard Hidalgo and Larry Dierker.

A man cannot live -- at least, not sanely -- on Astros bobbleheads alone, so Perry welcomed Babe Ruth and Willie Mays into the fold. Ken Griffey Jr. and Barry Bonds. Carl Yastrzemski and Willie Stargell. Robin Yount and Paul Molitor.

Lest anybody accuse the wall of fame of being elitist, there is a place for a Pokey Reese and a Tuffy Rhodes. A Damian Miller and a Ryan Dempster. An Astros' Junction Jack mascot and the Milwaukee Brewers' Chorizo Racing Sausage.

At last count, Perry had some 425 bobbleheads in his collection. One wall lined with shelves wasn't enough, so he went to work on a second wall. Two walls weren't enough, so he recently added shelving to a third wall.

"Did he tell you he talks to them and they talk back?" Washington Nationals clubhouse manager Mike Wallace said merrily.

Perry smiled.

"When I have a drink or two," Perry deadpanned, "they all talk back to me."

Perry soberly pulled down a bobblehead of Chuck Thompson, the late Hall of Fame announcer for the Baltimore Orioles, from a top shelf. One push of a button later, the bobblehead was, in fact, talking. Loud and clear.

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It began in a checkout line in 2001. Perry, 46, spotted a stack of bobbleheads and idly riffled through them. On impulse, he bought bobbleheads of Bagwell, Biggio, Berkman, Clemens, Derek Jeter and Cal Ripken Jr. and took them to the ballpark.

"It just kind of snowballed," said Perry, who is in his 29th season with the Astros. "They're not my love or anything. People kept sending them to me, and I'm kind of overwhelmed."

Players from visiting teams regularly pop into the office, some of them secretly checking to see if they've made the wall of fame. Former San Francisco Giants pitchers Kirk Rueter and Russ Ortiz ensured spots by personally delivering their own bobbleheads to Perry. Former All-Star Ron Santo, now a Chicago Cubs broadcaster, furnished his bobblehead.

"They'll say, 'How come you don't have my bobblehead up there?' " Perry said. "Albert Pujols, every time he comes in, gets on me: 'Where's my bobblehead? How come you don't have my bobblehead?' "

Perry estimates he has invested $50 to $100 of his own money -- "if that" -- on a collection that includes signatures from the likes of Mays, Bonds, Ryan, Griffey, Santo, Frank Robinson, Tony Perez, Don Newcombe and George Bush (the elder, No. 41 in the presidential lineup).

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Florida Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria once offered to buy the collection. Perry said he wouldn't know how to establish an asking price.

"I told him I couldn't sell them -- they all gave them to me," Perry said. "Everybody would walk in and say, 'What happened to your bobbleheads?' I didn't want to have to say, 'I sold them.' "

It would have meant parting with the Kevin Mitchell bobblehead commemorating his famous bare-handed outfield catch. It would have meant parting with the bobblehead of Biggio, encased in his trademark body armor, getting plunked on the elbow with a ball. It would have meant parting with the bobblehead of Ryan sliding into second base, commemorating his three career stolen bases.

"I think people want to see the faces, how close they come with the likeness" Perry said. "Guys see them, and they laugh."

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Bobbleheads have been around for a half-century. The originals were made of papier-mache and had a generic cherubic face. Major League Baseball got into the bobblehead game in the early 1960s, producing a set consisting of every team plus selected individual players such as Mays and Roberto Clemente. Bobbleheads evolved to ceramic, plastic and resin, but their big breakthrough in popularity didn't come until the Giants staged a giveaway of 35,000 Mays dolls in 1999.

There is a hockey wing of bobbleheads mostly consisting of Canadian team members furnished by a friend of Astros owner Drayton McLane. There is an announcer's wing adorned by the likes of Bob Uecker, Bob Prince, Milo Hamilton and Harry Caray. One of the curiosities is a Cubs contingent that includes Carlos Zambrano and Michael Barrett the pitcher-catcher tandem that fought in the dugout and clubhouse this season.

"I put (manager Lou) Piniella between them to break 'em up," Perry said. "Keep the peace."

A running joke among the players is how any resemblance they bear to their bobbleheads tends to be coincidental. For all a bystander can tell, a Lance Berkman bobblehead could be Lance Armstrong or Lancelot Link. The Baltimore Orioles had to draw the line last year, though, postponing a Brian Roberts promotion when the bobbleheads were the wrong, uh, pigmentation. The latest Ausmus bobblehead featured him as a surfer -- part of an Astros theme of going for an off-the-field motif.

"My kids like it," Ausmus said. "My friends like it. They find it entertaining. It's a bit of a nuisance, because people want me to mail them one."

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Minor league teams have gotten especially creative. The Tulsa Drillers gave out Moses bobbleheads -- complete with tablets representing the Ten Commandments -- as part of a 2006 faith and family night. The Corpus Christi Hooks in April doled out bobbleheads of Bishop Edward Carmody on Roman Catholic Diocese Night.

In Lowell, Mass., fans began lining up at the ballpark more than seven hours before game time for a 2003 giveaway of 1,000 bobbleheads depicting local Beat Generation author Jack Kerouac. The Baseball Hall of Fame wound up adding a Kerouac bobblehead to its collection.

Oswalt braced himself for the worst on his July 28 bobblehead night. The Astros handed out bobbleheads of Oswalt driving a tractor.

"Actually, it was kind of neat," Oswalt said. "There were a lot of players who wanted them."

One recent Saturday, the Astros gave away 10,000 bobbleheads of Berkman in cowboy regalia holding a lasso. Though Berkman said bobbleheads are "all for the fans," he admits to having held on to his.

"You throw 'em in the closet -- I guess for posterity," he said. "I don't know why anyone would want one. But just in case, we keep 'em around."


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index

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