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Ken Ellinger Bobblehead Interview

Bobblehead Collector Spotlight Featuring Ken Ellinger

Ken Ellinger is an Associate Professor of Political Science in the Department of Social Sciences at Dalton State College. He is also an avid baseball historian and bobblehead enthusiast. Mr. Ellinger has over 900 bobbleheads on display in his office on campus, spread out across all four walls. He was kind enough to take a few minutes out of his day and chat with us about his bobblehead obsession. The following is an edited transcription of our phone interview. There are some great stories here so sit back and enjoy!

Ken Ellinger Bobblehead Collection 1

R: Where did your bobblehead adventure begin?

K: About 7-8 years ago MLB.com had a banner at the top of their homepage saying “Bobblehead Blowout” and this intrigued me. At that point I had exactly zero bobbleheads; I had never given bobbleheads the first thought. They were getting rid of bobbleheads at ridiculous prices. We’re talking $1.49, $1.99, $2.49, and I just couldn’t believe it. I thought it was so cool. I didn’t even know there were that many bobbleheads. We’re talking team mascot bobbleheads, player bobbleheads, and the Cooperstown Collection. I’m a big into baseball history because my dad was a big baseball history buff. So I’m seeing all these great players from the past, hall of famers like Yogi Berra, Bob Gibson, Stan Musial, Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig, and Babe Ruth. Name a player and they’re practically giving them away. It was unbelievable so I decided to open up an online shopping cart. I’m not even sure I had bought anything online before this shopping spree.

I should’ve started with a bit of background about my office at school. I’ve got a huge modular desk complex with shelves rising almost to the ceiling and they were empty. I’m not a book collector and I didn’t want to stuff those shelves with a bunch of political science books. I pondered what to put there and then it just clicked. So I started adding all of the on-sale bobbleheads to my online shopping cart and before I knew it there were around 125 bobbleheads. However, the tab was only around $300. I proceeded to checkout and discovered shipping would cost me $80, which I thought was ridiculous. I called the toll-free number while I still had my cart open asked if I could negotiate a reduced shipping price. By “reduced” I mean free. The customer service rep put his supervisor on the phone and I explained the situation. He hesitated for about 1/10th of a second before he said “absolutely, free shipping is not a problem.” Afterall, I was taking 125 bobbleheads off their hands. I’m sure he was relieved. A couple of days later, I returned to the website and basically bought everything else that was on-sale, even players I hadn’t heard of at the time. This visit added another 50 or 60 bobbleheads to my collection. From that point on I’ve basically been hooked.

R: Where else do you shop for bobbleheads?

K: I patrol the bobblehead websites and click on the sale items. There are tons of bobbleheads out there I’d love to have but I don’t pay retail for bobbleheads, not even remotely close. I’ve decided to be disciplined about my bobblehead buying and I’m a bargain bobblehead shopper. Some of these websites are basically guys who buy, sell, and trade. It’s not a bobblehead store; it’s more like an online store or eBay setup. I don’t buy off eBay because their shipping is ridiculous. You might pay $10 for the shipping alone on an eBay bobblehead purchase. Even if you get the bobblehead for less than $10, you’re still paying $20+ when all is said and done.

Some websites exist out there where you just call and talk to them. There’s one in the Woodlands, TX area where a guy basically buys, sells, and trades bobbleheads. I visit his website and negotiate prices and shipping costs with him. I also do some trading with him. For example, I’ll tell him the duplicates I’m interested in, ask which ones of mine interest him, and figure out how much credit he’ll offer towards the ones I would like to purchase.

Even though I don’t buy off eBay, there are a couple of regular eBay sellers who basically only sell bobbleheads. Again, I’ll tell him what I’m interested in, ask what he’s interested in, and propose a trade with no money exchanging hands. Trading with people online is one of the more fun things about bobblehead collecting. That’s why I was looking for a bobblehead bulletin board of some kind because so far I’ve only dealt with dealers who acquire and sell them. I’m proud to say I’ve never sold a bobblehead and I have no intention of selling one either. I buy, collect, and trade with trading being the truly fun part.

I found one particular website that tells you what stadium bobblehead giveaways are coming up for any sport. For instance, it’ll say on April 17th a minor league team in New Jersey is holding XYZ bobblehead night. I look for games that are within a 200-300 mile driving radius for me as well as games in parts of the country where I have good friends. For the latter, I’ll ask a friend if they would like to attend the game on me in return for the bobbleheads. I’ll usually send $50 to that person for a couple of tickets and some concessions. Of course, I remind them to get there an hour early for the bobblehead too. So I basically pay for their evening of entertainment and they send me the bobbleheads. They usually send me a nice note with the bobblehead and it’s just a real cool thing.

Ken Ellinger Bobblehead Collection 2

R: Do you prefer one kind of bobblehead over another?

K: If it’s a sport or political bobblehead and I don’t have it then I want it, even if I’ve never heard of the person. It could be the most anonymous minor league player. Two-thirds of the time these minor league baseball stadium bobblehead giveaways feature players who aren’t very well known but that doesn’t matter to me. As I look at my bobbleheads, some of the ones I enjoy the most are these stadium giveaways because they feature local advertising. I’m standing here looking at ads for local radio stations, Midas, Frito Lay, the roller-skating center, and a local dairy to name a few. I also enjoy the team mascots and I’ve got a ton of bizarre mascots. The only time I’m ever tempted to overpay for a bobblehead is a cool team mascot I don’t have.

R: There is a rather large community of bobblehead collectors in existence. It’s neat to think about how bobbleheads bring people together, whether it’s online or in-person.

K: Absolutely! I’d like to widen my contacts in the bobblehead community because I really don’t know too many bobblehead collectors. The only ones I really know are these online dealers and they’re more about the money than the bobbleheads. I like to simplify the situation. I’m a collector and you’re a collector so let’s swap our duplicates with no money changing hands. Even if the other person isn’t as interested in my duplicates, I have no problem trading four of mine for two of theirs. Unfortunately, to my knowledge, there doesn’t appear to be an online board for collectors. There needs to be a better way to bring people together and I think this is a great opportunity for Bobbleheads.com to step in and take charge. Even if you don’t see any money off the deal, it would be great for website traffic.

There are other collectors out there like me and I’ve got a bunch of my duplicates stored away. Some are even overflowing into my office. I’m looking at this one corner in my office where I’ve got probably 30 stadium giveaway duplicates in the box. The Atlanta Braves have held three stadium giveaways each of the last two years. When I attend a Braves game I usually pick up four or five of them. I’ve got three or four BJ Upton bobbleheads, three or four Freddie Freeman, and three or four Dan Uggla. The Rome Braves actually held a Craig Kimbrell “bobble arm” day. I’ve got three duplicates of that as well. Last season, on the final weekend, the Braves gave away Chipper Jones retirement bobbleheads and I’ve got a couple spares. I’d think those would be highly sought after but I don’t know how to get in contact with people who might want them.

R: Do you have one favorite bobblehead in your collection?

K: I’ve got a number I really like but I could probably narrow it down to two. I couldn’t choose a favorite between them though. They both came from Oklahoma City RedHawks baseball games. It’s a Triple-A team and they held stadium giveaways for Johnny Bench, who attended Binger High School, and Mickey Mantle, who attended Commerce High School. A minor league team in Oklahoma City and they had a Johnny Bench Binger High School bobblehead and a Mickey Mantle Commerce High School bobblehead. Both of these were little bitty towns in Oklahoma. Binger is only about 18 miles from my hometown of Weatherford, Oklahoma. I’m proud of a Binger boy becoming what some people consider the greatest catcher in baseball history. I’ve met Johnny Bench too. When he won the Rookie of the Year in ’68 or ’69, he was honored at the college in Weatherford which would’ve been his local college. Even though he went straight to minor league baseball and skipped college, the college honored him with a Johnny Bench night. He signed autographs for everyone and we were all proud of him. The guy had just won Rookie of the Year in the National League. I got to meet him and get his autograph. He was real nice and I was probably 14 years old. So those two bobbleheads are super cool and they were both stadium giveaways. They both have advertising signs sticking up from the base. Again, those are the ones I like the best.

Some have the advertising on the back or bottom of the base but most of the advertising is on a little ceramic bulletin board that sticks up from the base. This Mickey Mantle one says Ferguson Bath and Kitchen Gallery and the other one is York Heating and Air Conditioning. In the case of Ferguson, that’s a local Oklahoma City company. I think York is national but still it’s kind of cool. The advertising enhances the boobblehead in my opinion and makes it seem less corporate. The local company sponsoring the local team on Mickey Mantle and Johnny Bench bobblehead night is great. I’m originally from Oklahoma so as I was checking the Oklahoma RedHawks website I discovered Johnny Bench bobblehead night. I sent money to a friend so he could take his kids to the game and in return I get a Johnny Bench bobblehead. It was the same way with Mickey Mantle. I have a number of friends who have done me that favor. It actually strengthens our bond of friendship, especially my long lost friends from Oklahoma who I don’t see often. When they hear about a bobblehead night they contact me and ask if I want them to go. My response: Of course!

Ken Ellinger Bobblehead Collection 3

R: What is it about bobbleheads that thrills you the most?

K: As much as I enjoy everything I just discussed, the part that really keeps me going is the reactions I get from students and faculty who walk by my office. I didn’t anticipate this feeling. When I’m in my office my door is always wide open. Students and some non-students walk down my hallway throughout the semester with no clue I’m a bobblehead collector. Once they notice it out the corner of their eye they just stop. You can hear the gasps and reactions. As soon as I hear them I invite them in to have a look around the office. If you stand in a certain spot and turn around 360 degrees you can see every bobblehead on all four walls. They invariably whip out their smartphones to take pictures and video. They ask me to pose in front of the collection on occasion too. I’m happy to do it and I love the interaction. A number of them have referred to it as a bobblehead museum. I tell students on the first day of class every semester that one of the best predictors of success in college is visiting your professor during their office hours.

Watch this video featuring Ken and his collection from the Chattanooga Times Free Press.