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.

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From Ear to Eternity: When Mike Tyson Bit Evander Holyfield

Evander Holyfield (L) and Mike Tyson (R) compete in their rematch in Las Vegas on June 28, 1997. The bout would make sports history.
Evander Holyfield (L) and Mike Tyson (R) compete in their rematch in Las Vegas on June 28, 1997. The bout would make sports history.
Focus On Sport/Getty Images

As the 16,000 spectators began filing out of the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, following a night of fights on June 28, 1997, MGM employee Mitch Libonati noticed something strange on the floor of the boxing ring. He later described it as being roughly the size of a fingernail, with the texture of a piece of hot dog or sausage.

It was no concession stand remnant. It was a piece of Evander Holyfield’s ear.

Wrapping the morsel of flesh in a latex glove, Libonati hurried backstage, where Holyfield was conferring with officials and doctors after his opponent, Mike Tyson, had been disqualified for biting him on the left ear. In all the commotion, Libonati wasn't allowed inside the room. But Michael Grant, one of Holyfield’s training partners, accepted the ear fragment on Holyfield’s behalf.

Libonati’s discovery was the climax to one of boxing’s most controversial and bizarre evenings, one in which "Iron" Mike Tyson—the most famous fighter of his era—meted out a savage reprimand for what he perceived was dirty fighting on the part of Holyfield. The ear-biting far exceeded the brutal underpinnings of boxing and added to Tyson's reputation as a frenzied combatant both in and out of the ring.

 

Mike Tyson’s collision with Evander Holyfield had started when the two were just teenagers. On the amateur circuit, they had sparred together—not quite knowing the heights each would achieve, but understanding the other would be a formidable obstacle if they were to ever meet as professionals.

Evander Holyfield (L) had success against Mike Tyson (R) early on.Focus On Sport/Getty Images

Tyson was a prodigy, having won the heavyweight championship of the world in 1986 at the age of 19 and dominating the division up until an upset loss to James “Buster” Douglas in Tokyo, Japan, in 1990. Holyfield was the lighter fighter at cruiserweight (190 pounds), moving up to the heavyweight division in 1988 and gaining respect for his trilogy with Riddick Bowe.

Long before that fateful night in 1997, Tyson's personal life had started to overshadow his accomplishments inside the ring: An allegedly abusive marriage to actress Robin Givens darkened his image in the media and ended in a very public divorce after just one year. In 1992, a rape conviction sidelined the fighter for more than three years while he served out his prison sentence.

When Tyson returned to the ring, he rattled off a string of wins against fighters not quite at his level, including Peter McNeeley, Buster Mathis Jr., Frank Bruno, and Bruce Seldon. Holyfield had stepped away from competition in 1994, but as Tyson knocked off inferior opponents, talk of a bout with Holyfield intensified. Finally, the two met in Las Vegas on November 9, 1996, with Tyson a 17-1 favorite over the semi-retired Holyfield.

Holyfield would prove his doubters wrong. Through 11 rounds of action, he outmaneuvered and outclassed Tyson by negating his opponent's power with movement and volume. Holyfield also landed headbutts that were declared unintentional, but to Tyson seemed deliberate. Before the fight could see a 12th round, Holyfield knocked Tyson down and earned a technical knockout victory.

 

While it was an undoubtedly disappointing moment for Tyson, an upset in boxing virtually guarantees a lucrative rematch deal. Both men agreed to meet a second time, with Holyfield earning $35 million and Tyson getting $30 million. Tyson’s camp, however, insisted that the referee from the first bout, Mitch Halpern, not be booked for the second, because Tyson felt he failed to call the illegal headbutts. The Nevada State Athletic Commission didn’t want to be seen capitulating to Tyson’s demands, but Halpern stepped aside voluntarily. So referee Mills Lane took his place.

Evander Holyfield (L) and Mike Tyson (R) first met as amateurs.Focus On Sport/Getty Images

Before a huge crowd full of A-list celebrities like Sylvester Stallone and a then-record 1.99 million households that had purchased the event on pay-per-view, Tyson and Holyfield met for a second time at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on June 28, 1997. While Holyfield took the first round, Tyson appeared fit and adaptive, and came out blazing in round two. Then, just as Tyson had feared, Holyfield’s headbutt struck him again.

The clash of heads opened a cut over Tyson’s right eye, which threatened to obscure his vision as the fight went on. It also opened a reservoir of frustration in the fighter that would manifest in a spectacularly violent way.

Coming out for the third round, Tyson had forgotten his mouthpiece and had to go back and retrieve it—a foreshadowing of things to come. His aggression was working against Holyfield, but with 40 seconds left in the round, the two clinched up. Tyson moved his mouth so it was near Holyfield’s right ear. With his mouthpiece still in place, he clamped down on the ear, ripped the top off, and spat it along with his mouthguard onto the canvas.

Holyfield jumped up in the air in shock and pain. Referee Mills Lane was initially confused by what had happened until Holyfield’s trainers, Don Turner and Tommy Brooks, yelled out what Tyson had done. Lane called for a doctor then told Marc Ratner, the executive director of the athletic commission, that he was going to end the fight. Ratner asked if he was sure. Seeing Holyfield was bleeding from his ear but otherwise ready to fight, Lane waved the two men back into competition.

Incredibly, Tyson bit Holyfield a second time, this time on the left ear, before the round ended. This time, Lane was aware of what was happening and had seen enough. Before the start of the fourth round, he disqualified Tyson.

 

That was far from the end of it. Realizing he had lost the fight, Tyson grew incensed, shoving Holyfield from behind and pawing at the security guards who had stormed the ring in an attempt to restore order.

After the bout, Tyson didn’t appear to be overly contrite. He explained that he was frustrated at Holyfield headbutting him without being penalized, and said he had lost control.

An emotional Mike Tyson reacts to his disqualification loss to Evander Holyfield.Focus On Sport/Getty Images

“Listen,” Tyson said. “Holyfield is not the tough warrior everyone says he is. He got a nick on his ear and he quit.”

Tyson believed his retaliation was justified. “This is my career," he said. "I’ve got children to raise and this guy keeps butting me, trying to cut me and get me stopped on cuts. I’ve got to retaliate. What else could I do? He didn’t want to fight. I’m ready to fight right now. Regardless of what I did, he’s been butting me for two fights. I got one eye. He’s not impaired. He’s got ears. I’ve got to go home and my kids will be scared of me. Look at me, look at me, look at me!”

Two days later, Tyson issued a tempered apology in an effort to minimize the consequences, but it was too late. In addition to losing his boxing license in the state of Nevada, Tyson was fined 10 percent of his purse, or $3 million, which was thought to be the largest fine in sports at the time.

 

Tyson could never entirely shake the stigma of his actions. When a lucrative bout with Lennox Lewis was being planned in 2002, the fight ultimately ended up taking place in Memphis, Tennessee; Nevada refused to restore Tyson's license following a press conference brawl between the two men.

Tyson ultimately continued competing through 2005, when he lost his last bout to Kevin McBride. Holyfield retired in 2011. Earlier this year, the 54-year-old Tyson expressed a desire to return to the ring. The fighter once known as "The Baddest Man on the Planet" is scheduled to fight Roy Jones Jr. on November 28, 2020. Yet Holyfield, now 57 years old, remains a possible future opponent.

The two have occasionally interacted in public in interviews, with Tyson expressing remorse and Holyfield admitting he briefly thought about biting Tyson on his face right back. The pair even filmed a spot for Foot Locker in which Tyson “gave” Holyfield the missing piece of his ear.

In reality, Holyfield never did get his ear back. After Mitch Libonati handed it over to Michael Grant, the piece somehow fell out of the latex glove while being transported to the hospital.

Many fighters talk about leaving a little piece of themselves in the ring. It’s usually metaphorical. For Evander Holyfield, it was simply the truth.