Baseball's Best (and Weirdest) Ballpark Promotions

In the 1960s, Major League Baseball teams began giving away bats, balls, caps, and helmets to lure fans to the ballpark. As Mets vice president James K. Thomson told the New York Times in 1968, “People like something for nothing. Everybody comes to the fair.” More than 40 years later, that philosophy still holds true. Here’s a look at this season’s most interesting giveaways at stadiums throughout the league, and a look back at some infamous promotions of the past.

Tampa Bay Rays

The Rays, who struggle to draw fans to Tropicana Field, have long offered some of the most creative promotions in the league. Last year, the team gave away Carlos Pena toothbrush holders. (After Pena hit a woeful .196 in 2010 and signed as a free agent with the Chicago Cubs, you can bet there aren’t a lot of Tampa Bay players clamoring to replace the slugger as the team’s promoter of dental hygiene.) This year, the first 10,000 fans age 14 and under at the Rays’ September 4 game will receive an Evan Longoria cereal bowl and spoon set.

New York Yankees

The first 18,000 fans through the Yankee Stadium gates on April 28 will receive a packet of flower seeds, compliments of the non-profit organization Keep America Beautiful, which was founded in New York City in 1953. If nothing else, the packets may be less attractive to would-be thieves than some other potential giveaways. In 2005, 47,000 Yankees giveaway hats were stolen from a New Jersey warehouse.

Boston Red Sox

The Red Sox rarely give away items these days—they don’t even have a 2011 promotional schedule on their website—but that wasn’t always the case. In 1982, the team gave out seat cushions for a September game against the Indians. After the Red Sox broke open a close game and hit two home runs in the sixth inning en route to a 12-1 win, many of the 15,000 fans in attendance tossed their cushions onto the field. “It was an awesome sight,” Boston pitcher John Tudor said. Umpires warned the Red Sox that the game would have to be forfeited if the cushions continued to be thrown, leading Fenway Park public address announcer Sherm Feller to tell fans, “Try sitting on the cushions, it’s more comfortable that way.”

Baltimore Orioles

On July 22, the Orioles will offer floppy hats to the first 25,000 fans age 21 and older. Baltimore, which hasn’t made the playoffs since 1997, hopes it never has another reason to host a “Fantastic Fans Night” like the one it did in May of 1988. More than 50,000 people came out to Memorial Stadium to support the struggling Orioles, who were returning home after a dreadful road trip that dropped the team’s record to 1-23. The stadium was decked out in orange and black bunting, there were giveaways throughout the night, Morganna the Kissing Bandit was in attendance, and the team announced that it had agreed on a 15-year lease with the city of Baltimore that included a new downtown ballpark. To top it all off, the Orioles won.

Toronto Blue Jays

The first 15,000 fans to enter the Rogers Centre on July 31 will receive a Roberto Alomar Hall of Fame bobblehead. Ten years ago, the Blue Jays offered a fairly unconventional promotion when they honored a division rival, Orioles legend Cal Ripken, with a bobblehead during the future Hall of Famer’s final road trip to Toronto.

Chicago White Sox

The White Sox are raking new ground with their Roger Bossard bobblehead giveaway this season. Bossard, who is known as the Sodfather, is the head groundskeeper at U.S. Cellular Field and a consultant for more than a dozen MLB teams. He joined the White Sox as an assistant groundskeeper in 1967 and worked under his father until 1983, when he assumed the lead role.

The White Sox have a great tradition of unique promotions, thanks to the mark that former owner Bill Veeck and one of his protégés, Rudy Schaffer, left on the team. Disco Demolition Night on July 12, 1979, which featured a crate of exploding records and a near-riot, was Bill Veeck’s son Mike’s idea.

Cleveland Indians

On August 13, the Indians will give away Mike Hargrove “Human Rain Delay” bobbleheads. Hargrove, who played for and later managed the Indians, earned his nickname for the inordinate amount of time he took to settle into the batter’s box.

Hargrove was an unwilling participant in another Indians promotion in 1974, when he was managing the Texas Rangers. Hargrove was pelted with hot dogs and spit on during 10-Cent Beer Night at Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium, which drew a crowd of about 25,000, or 17,000 more than what the Indians had been averaging. A riot erupted in the ninth inning after an Indians fan tried to steal Rangers outfielder Jeff Burroughs’ cap and his teammates stormed out of the dugout wielding bats. When Hargrove returned to Cleveland as manager in 1991, he reportedly hung a photo from the crazy night on the wall in his office.

Detroit Tigers

Outfielder Austin Jackson made an incredible catch in the ninth inning of Armando Galarraga’s imperfect perfect game last season, but it was unfortunately overshadowed by umpire Jim Joyce’s blown call on what should have been the final out of the game. The Tigers will commemorate Jackson’s grab with a figurine for the first 10,000 fans on April 22. As recently as 2006, the Tigers offered 16 free car giveaways, sponsored by GM, during the course of the season.

Kansas City Royals

The Royals will give away team snow globes as part of their Christmas Eve in July celebration on July 24. A more traditional giveaway in 1987 almost cost Kansas City a win. From the AP’s account: “The white caps given to almost 36,000 fans Sunday looked like a frothing, rolling sea in Royals Stadium. Several times, they nearly blinded outfielders to fly balls.” Royals manager Billy Gardner commented on the promotion after the game. “Maybe next time we give away hats we can make them blue,” he said.

Minnesota Twins

On April 24, the first 5,000 adult fans at Minnesota’s Target Field will receive a Matt Capps fishing lure. The promotion is guaranteed to garner less criticism than the Twins’ halter top giveaways to female fans in the late ‘70s. The team eventually did away with the promotion, which a handful of other teams also used, after the daughter of former Twins owner Calvin Griffith convinced team officials that it was in poor taste.

Los Angeles Angels

Fans have the Angels to curse for introducing Thundersticks to the sports world. The plastic balloons, which produce a deafening noise when smacked together, became popular during the team’s run to the World Series in 2002, and have since been banned by many stadiums and arenas. On May 7, the Angels will offer a quieter blast from the past in the form of an Angels Troll doll to all children ages 2-18. Three days later, the team will give away Angels wrestling masks.

Oakland Athletics

On July 17, the A’s will issue 15,000 MC Hammer bobbleheads to fans as part of their 80s Day celebration. (Growing up, Hammer was an A's batboy.) Former Athletics owner Charlie O. Finley probably wouldn’t know what to make of that promotion. When the A’s were located in Kansas City, Finley once had his players ride to their positions on mules.

Seattle Mariners

The Mariners are offering some unique promotions this season, including an Ichiro hit counter bobblehead (May 6) and a Franklin Gutierrez fly swatter (May 19). During the ‘90s, Jay Buhner Buzz Cut Night was one of the biggest draws of the year. Every fan that showed up to the Kingdome with a buzzed or bald head was given a free ticket in right field. Buhner even shaved some fans’ heads himself.

Texas Rangers

The Rangers have been using giveaways to attract fans since 1972, when the tactic helped the team draw “several thousand more fans” than the relocated franchise did in Washington the previous year. Sunday, May 29, is Rangers swimming pool float giveaway day for the first 10,000 kids age 13 and under.

Atlanta Braves

 The Braves will give away replica Atlanta Black Crackers caps to the first 20,000 fans on May 14. The Black Crackers were founded in 1919 and played in the Negro League until 1952. That promotion should go over a whole lot better than one the Braves held in June of 1974, when the team gave away 10,000 Frisbees for a doubleheader against the Reds. The umpires threatened to forfeit the first game after fans littered the field with Frisbees on three separate occasions.

Florida Marlins

The first 5,000 kids on August 14 will receive a Hanley Ramirez and Josh Johnson back-to-school lunch cooler. The Marlins drew the ire of their own players and the opposing team’s manager when they gave away air-horns last summer. “That was the worst handout or giveaway I’ve ever been a part of in baseball,” Marlins second baseman Dan Uggla said. “This isn’t soccer.” Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon also disapproved. “There are cool things and noncool things,” he said. “That’s noncool. I would put it under the column of it didn’t quite work.” Marlins president David Samson defended the promotion, which was scheduled to coincide with the World Cup.

New York Mets

On June 23, the Mets will host a Senior Stroll, which is a nod to the older generation in a world dominated by 'Kids Run the Bases' days. In 2000, the team gave away a 24-page comic book featuring a villain named Larcenous Vein, who planned to blow up a No. 7 subway train, but was defeated by Mets players. It just so happened that during the previous offseason, Atlanta Braves reliever John Rocker made headlines with derogatory remarks about the diversity in New York City, referencing the different people a visitor might encounter on the No. 7 train. “It’s a coincidence,” Mets spokesman Jay Horwitz said when asked whether Larcenous Vein was Rocker’s alter ego. “The idea was conceived a long time ago.”

Philadelphia Phillies

May 3 is $1 Hot Dog Night at Citizens Bank Park, which has the potential to be interesting. In 2007, the Phillies gave away Shane Victorino bobblehead dolls featuring the Flyin’ Hawaiian in a hula skirt and playing a ukulele.

Washington Nationals

On September 10, the first 15,000 fans through the gates at Nationals Park will receive a Fan’s Choice bobblehead. The Nationals introduced the idea last season, with Ivan Rodriguez beating out John Lannan, Teddy Roosevelt, and manager Jim Riggleman for the honor via an online vote.

When the Nationals were still the Montreal Expos, the team held an Oh Henry! candy bar promotion in honor of slugger Henry Rodriguez. All fans who brought a proof of purchase of the candy bar received a discounted ticket and a T-shirt. Fans often threw the candy bars on the field following home runs by Rodriguez, who belted a career-high 36 in 1996.

Chicago Cubs

On September 2, the first 4,000 kids age 14 and under will receive American Girl Doll-sized Cubs apparel. Former Cubs executive John McDonough is credited with bringing the Beanie Babies craze to ballparks for the first time in 1997.

Cincinnati Reds

The Reds are giving away Dusty Baker bobbleheads that double as toothpick holders on July 2. In 1991, the team gave away replica World Series rings to celebrate its 1990 title. In 2007, the Reds hosted Ryan Freel Dirty T-Shirt Night and gave away Freel jersey T-shirts with dirt stains printed on the front to honor their always-hustling utility player.

Houston Astros

The Astros will give away Cuddle Pups to the first 10,000 kids on August 7. In 1976, the team gave away free beer after Phillies slugger Mike Schmidt struck out when the clock was on an even minute. “I guess it was good for baseball,” Schmidt said. “Everybody got a beer.” Everybody got a ticket in 1995, when Astros owner Drayton McClane Jr. gave away 54,350 tickets to a game against the Phillies.

Milwaukee Brewers

The first 15,000 fans 21 and older on July 30 will receive a Miller Lite Beer Vendor bobblehead, which is appropriate for a team nicknamed the Brewers that plays its home games in Miller Park. The Brewers nearly forfeited a game in 1997 when fans threw giveaway baseballs on the field in a 5-3 win against the Texas Rangers.

Pittsburgh Pirates

On July 10, kids 14 and under will receive wind-up Pierogi racers, which the Pirates also offered last season. The team sparked a minor controversy in 2008 after giving away Tom Gorzelanny bobbleheads. Some fans complained that Gorzelanny’s plastic middle finger—as opposed to his index finger—was poking out of his glove. A Pirates spokesman said the bobblehead was modeled after a photo provided to the manufacturer.

St. Louis Cardinals

Twenty-five thousand fans on August 9 will receive Adam Wainwright photo baseballs, which is a nice way to remember the NL Cy Young runner-up, who will miss the entire season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Like the Red Sox, the Cardinals have also witnessed the spectacle of flying seat cushions. After Tom Herr beat the Mets with a grand slam in April of 1987, the giveaways rained down on Busch Stadium’s artificial turf.

Arizona Diamondbacks

The Diamondbacks will give away a BBQ set to the first 5,000 fans for its Father’s Day promotion on June 19. In 2007, the team started giving away items at every Saturday and Sunday home game, including six different bobbleheads and a Stephen Drew growth chart poster.

Colorado Rockies

The Rockies haven’t announced their 2011 promotional schedule, but the team has traditionally been generous with their giveaways. In 2008, the team offered National League Championship replica trophies in April. The game was snowed out and rescheduled for June.

Los Angeles Dodgers

On April 19, fans will receive a Fernando Valenzuela fleece blanket. It’s pretty difficult to throw a fleece blanket on the field from the upper deck—not that anyone would want to part with their Fernandomania schwag—and that’s a good thing. The Dodgers forfeited the first National League game in 41 years in 1995 after fans threw promotional baseballs on the field in the seventh and ninth innings of an August game against the Cardinals. The second wave of balls was sparked by the ejection of Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda with Los Angeles trailing St. Louis 2-1. Speaking at a luncheon honoring Lasorda later that week, Pirates manager Jim Leyland deadpanned, “We’ve been struggling to get a win, so we’ve declared tonight ‘Dodger Paperweight Night.’”

San Diego Padres

The Padres will give away 6-pack tube coolers to fans at Petco Park on April 23. In 2007, the Padres were criticized by a Christian group for hosting Pride Night on the same night they gave away floppy hats to children age 14 and under. “The Padres are playing the part of the Pied Piper, leading unsuspecting children into the homosexual lifestyle as normal,” Richard Thompson, director of the Ann Arbor-based Christian law center, said.

San Francisco Giants

The Giants are giving wearable blankets (read: Snuggies) to the first 20,000 fans on May 20. The team gave away baseballs at Candlestick Park in 1993 and the game was delayed after fans showered the field following a home run. Giants manager Dusty Baker reportedly ordered his players into the dugout, but San Francisco’s outfielders stayed on the field to help remove the balls.

6 Protective Mask Bundles You Can Get On Sale

pinkomelet/iStock via Getty Images Plus
pinkomelet/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Daily life has changed immeasurably since the onset of COVID-19, and one of the ways people have had to adjust is by wearing protective masks out in public places, including in parks and supermarkets. These are an essential part of fighting the spread of the virus, and there are plenty of options for you depending on what you need, whether your situation calls for disposable masks to run quick errands or the more long-lasting KN95 model if you're going to work. Check out some options you can pick up on sale right now.

1. Cotton Face Masks; $20 for 4

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2. CE- and FDA-Approved KN95 Mask; $50 for 10

A woman putting on a protective mask.
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You’ve likely heard about the N95 face mask and its important role in keeping frontline workers safe. Now, you can get a similar model for yourself. The KN95 has a dual particle layer, which can protect you from 99 percent of particles in the air and those around you from 70 percent of the particles you exhale. Nose clips and ear straps provide security and comfort, giving you some much-needed peace of mind.

Buy it: $50 for 10 (50 percent off)

3. Three-Ply Masks; $13 for 10

Woman wearing a three-ply protective mask.
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These three-ply, non-medical, non-woven face masks provide a moisture-proof layer against your face with strong filtering to keep you and everyone around you safe. The middle layer filters non-oily particles in the air and the outer layer works to block visible objects, like droplets.

Buy it: $13 for 10 (50 percent off)

4. Disposable masks; $44 for 50

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If the thought of reusing the same mask from one outing to the next makes you feel uneasy, there’s a disposable option that doesn’t compromise quality; in fact, it uses the same three-layered and non-woven protection as other masks to keep you safe from airborne particles. Each mask in this pack of 50 can be worn safely for up to 10 hours. Once you're done, safely dispose of it and start your next outing with a new one.

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5. Polyester Masks; $22 for 5

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These masks are a blend of 95 percent polyester and 5 percent spandex, and they work to block particles from spreading in the air. And because they're easily compressed, they can travel with you in your bag or pocket, whether you're going to work or out to the store.

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6. Mask Protector Cases; $15 for 3

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At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.

Double Play: The Curious Life and Career of Ozzie Canseco

Otto Gruele, Allsport/Getty Images
Otto Gruele, Allsport/Getty Images

“Jose, we love you! Jose, you suck!” It’s 1992 in Louisville, Kentucky, and a man who bears a striking resemblance to major league home run king Jose Canseco is smashing baseballs out of Triple-A ballparks for the Louisville Redbirds, the minor league sibling of the St. Louis Cardinals.

A screen erected specifically for home runs at Pilot Field in Buffalo, New York, fails to contain one 550-foot drive. The ball goes over the screen and past the highway.

“Good job, Jose!”

Before and after games, the six-foot-two, 220-pound slugger will be asked about dating Madonna (he didn’t), antagonized into fights (he avoids them, mostly), and begged for autographs. When he signs his name, fans appear confused. They tell him to stop joking around. Doesn’t he know he’s Jose Canseco, perpetual All-Star and prolific masher of baseballs? Who ever heard of Ozzie Canseco, Jose’s identical twin, born two minutes earlier to Jose Canseco Sr. and his wife, Barbara? And if they are identical, why is it that Jose was earning millions as a member of the Oakland Athletics while Ozzie only made sporadic appearances in the majors?

Ozzie tried to explain all of these things over and over again. Every time he thought people got the message, he would head back out into the world, hearing his brother’s name. Once, a car veered and tried to run him off the road. When Ozzie hit the shoulder, the other driver laughed, as if it were a joke, and then referred to him as Jose.

 

There are relatively few examples of twins who excelled equally in sports. Ronde and Tiki Barber were both selected in the 1997 NFL Draft and had successful careers; Karyne and Sarah Steben, both accomplished gymnasts, toured with Cirque du Soleil and credited their psychological connection with helping them perform difficult aerial feats.

More often, siblings of star athletes idle in the shadows cast by their high-achieving counterparts.

Hank Aaron’s brother Tommie joined him in professional baseball. Hank hit 755 home runs during his career; Tommie connected with 13. There were three DiMaggio brothers, though it was Joe—the onetime husband of Marilyn Monroe—who stood out both on and off the field. Had any of these men looked identical to their famous brother, it would have compounded the comparisons. It’s unlikely anyone ever tried to run Tommie Aaron off the road.

Ozzie Canseco plays for the Oakland Athletics in a Major League Baseball game
Otto Gruele Jr, Getty Images

Born on July 2, 1964, Osvaldo “Ozzie” Capas Canseco and Jose Canseco would soon be another sports sibling story.

The two were barely a year old when their parents immigrated to the United States from Cuba. Both grew up learning to play "the great American pastime." Jose, an outfielder who could wallop a ball out of sight, was drafted by the Oakland Athletics in 1982 straight out of high school. After polishing his skills in the minor leagues for three years, he briefly debuted as a late-season call-up for the Athletics in 1985. His official rookie season came in 1986, when he went on to hit 33 home runs and knock in 117 RBIs, resulting in Rookie of the Year honors.

Ozzie, who had played as much baseball as his brother, decided to take a year for college. Instead of being a power hitter, Ozzie had gravitated toward pitching. The New York Yankees drafted him in 1983. After four largely unimpressive years on the mound in the minor leagues, he was released by the Yankees and picked up by the Oakland Athletics organization in 1986 to further develop his skills.

It amounted to a genetic experiment in sports: Two men, nearly identical in build—Jose was an inch taller and perhaps 10 pounds heavier—who played the same game for the same amount of time. In 1989, the two even suffered the exact same injury to the hamate bone in the hand. Yet it was Jose who became a sensation, earning exponentially increasing millions and stats for the Athletics and the Texas Rangers, while Ozzie struggled to get called up.

The problem, according to Ozzie, was that he had pitched for too long, refining a skill that wouldn’t pay the same dividends as an outfielder and star hitter. All those years pitching put him behind Jose and behind the game. When he was finally called up to the Athletics as an outfielder in 1990, the difference in ability when compared to Jose was obvious. After 20 homers and 67 RBIs with the Huntsville Stars farm team, he managed only a .105 batting average in nine MLB games during his first season, striking out in 10 of his 19 at-bats. Meanwhile, in 1988, Jose became the first MLB player in history to hit 40 home runs and steal 40 bases in a single season—a feat only three players have replicated since. When Ozzie struck out in his first Athletics game, Jose hit two home runs.

 

Pundits tried to break down Ozzie’s deficiencies. Superficially, he had everything Jose had, including a powerful build that was likely bolstered by steroids. (Jose admitted to using performance-enhancing substances in his 2005 tell-all book, Juiced; Ozzie was arrested for driving in a car that contained vials of steroids during a traffic stop in 2003. Jose later told VICE that Ozzie "used the same type of steroids I used and in equal amounts.") But experts pointed out that Jose was more flexible, with a better range of motion in his swing and a faster sprint. He seemed to be more aggressive during play, too. These were subtle differences, but enough for Jose to make three World Series appearances while Ozzie toiled in the minors.

Ozzie Canseco bats for the Oakland Athletics during a Major League Baseball game
Otto Gruele Jr, Getty Images

Dejected, Ozzie headed for Japan to play for the Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes to sharpen his game against different kinds of pitches. Playing for the Japanese equivalent of a farm team in Osaka, he quit midway through the season to return to the U.S. minors, joining the Louisville Redbirds, the Cardinals Triple-A team. In 1993, he got a chance to jump on the Cardinals for six uneventful games. When Bernard Gilkey came off the disabled list, Ozzie was bumped back down. In frustration, he briefly quit baseball before signing a contract with the Triple-A arm of the Milwaukee Brewers and, later, the Florida Marlins.

After being released by the Marlins in 1996, he remarked it was the first summer he had not played baseball since he was a kid. While other people may have confused him for Jose, baseball’s management did not.

 

If Ozzie was never quite his brother’s equal on the field, he found parity in other ways. For years, rumors circulated that Ozzie would show up in place of Jose for autograph signings. The two also got in nearly equivalent legal trouble for a 2001 nightclub brawl in Miami Beach that ended in probation and a civil lawsuit against both.

In what was probably their most audacious attempt to fool people, Ozzie reportedly showed up for a 2011 celebrity boxing match claiming he was Jose, who had performed in prizefights against the likes of Danny Bonaduce. Promoter Damon Feldman claimed he had paid Jose $5000 and that he was confused when Ozzie finally removed his shirt. (He lacks the bicep tattoo sported by his brother). Feldman had him escorted out and filed a complaint for breach of contract, winning a default judgment against Jose for the $5000 advance and travel expenses. Feldman later expressed doubt he had ever actually met Jose. (On Twitter, Jose Canseco denied Feldman’s claim that he had sent Ozzie in his place.)

In 2015, Ozzie was named the hitting coach for the Sioux Falls Canaries, a Double-A team in South Dakota. Not long after, he and his brother once again confused onlookers when Ozzie fooled his on-air correspondents into thinking “Jose” had arrived to film a segment for his role as an analyst for an NBC broadcast. It was a bit of levity that may have indicated that the years removed from the field had allowed Ozzie to feel more comfortable—both in his own skin and his brother’s.

It was a long time coming. Speaking to Sports Illustrated in 1994, Ozzie lamented the peculiar reality of resembling his brother in every aspect but the one that mattered to him most. “It’s difficult to explain my existence as Ozzie Canseco on a daily basis,” he said.