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Flickr User chrisjtse

Why Do Sports Teams Give Out Bobbleheads?

Flickr User chrisjtse
Flickr User chrisjtse

Silly as they are, some bobbleheads have been sold for crazy amounts of money. The tchotchkes are a signature piece of sports memorabilia, but their history dates back far beyond the world of athletics.

An early reference to the figurines we know as "bobbleheads" appeared in Nikolai Gogol’s 1842 short story “The Overcoat.” According to Bobblehead.com, the tale features a character whose neck was "like the neck of plaster cats which wag their heads.” Bobbleheads—or "nodders" or "bobbers," as they were originally known—were produced in Germany in the mid-18th century. These early incarnations stood about six to eight inches tall, with heads that were attached to their bodies with a spring.

Bobbleheads as sports memorabilia first hit the scene in the 1920s. According to SB Nation, the first team-related figurine was a generic Knicks basketball player. Bobbleheads didn't reach baseball until the 1960 World Series, when fans could buy papier-mâché bobbleheads honoring Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Willie Mays, and Roberto Clemente (because of their flimsy construction, few remain).

Bobbleheads dipped in popularity, and they didn't become a ballpark staple again for decades. SB Nation credits the San Francisco Giants for helping revive the tradition when the team had a Willie Mays bobblehead promotion in 1999. The figurine became an instant collector's item, and a fad was (re)born. Cheaper manufacturing methods also meant that teams could regularly include bobbleheads as free giveaways, adding incentive for fans to buy tickets.

Between 2010 and May 2013, SB Nation reports, there were 334 bobblehead promotional giveaways at major league ballparks. Of those promotions, the Giants have hosted the most, with 34 in that three-year span and 77 in total since 1999.

The National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum is set to open in 2016. Newsweek reports that the museum's founders, Phil Sklar and Brad Nova, already have 4000 bobbleheads and hope to have 6000 more by the time it opens.

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Big Questions
What Makes a Cat's Tail Puff Up When It's Scared?
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Cats wear their emotions on their tails, not their sleeves. They tap their fluffy rear appendages during relaxing naps, thrash them while tense, and hold them stiff and aloft when they’re feeling aggressive, among other behaviors. And in some scary situations (like, say, being surprised by a cucumber), a cat’s tail will actually expand, puffing up to nearly twice its volume as its owner hisses, arches its back, and flattens its ears. What does a super-sized tail signify, and how does it occur naturally without help from hairspray?

Cats with puffed tails are “basically trying to make themselves look as big as possible, and that’s because they detect a threat in the environment," Dr. Mikel Delgado, a certified cat behavior consultant who studied animal behavior and human-pet relationships as a PhD student at the University of California, Berkeley, tells Mental Floss. The “threat” in question can be as major as an approaching dog or as minor as an unexpected noise. Even if a cat isn't technically in any real danger, it's still biologically wired to spring to the offensive at a moment’s notice, as it's "not quite at the top of the food chain,” Delgado says. And a big tail is reflexive feline body language for “I’m big and scary, and you wouldn't want to mess with me,” she adds.

A cat’s tail puffs when muscles in its skin (where the hair base is) contract in response to hormone signals from the stress/fight or flight system, or sympathetic nervous system. Occasionally, the hairs on a cat’s back will also puff up along with the tail. That said, not all cats swell up when a startling situation strikes. “I’ve seen some cats that seem unflappable, and they never get poofed up,” Delgado says. “My cats get puffed up pretty easily.”

In addition to cats, other animals also experience piloerection, as this phenomenon is technically called. For example, “some birds puff up when they're encountering an enemy or a threat,” Delgado says. “I think it is a universal response among animals to try to get themselves out of a [potentially dangerous] situation. Really, the idea is that you don't have to fight because if you fight, you might lose an ear or you might get an injury that could be fatal. For most animals, they’re trying to figure out how to scare another animal off without actually going fisticuffs.” In other words, hiss softly, but carry a big tail.

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What Happened to the Physical Copy of the 'I Have a Dream' Speech?
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AFP, Getty Images

On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and gave a speech for the ages, delivering the oratorical masterpiece "I Have a Dream" to nearly 250,000 people.

When he was done, King stepped away from the podium, folded his speech, and found himself standing in front of George Raveling, a former Villanova basketball player who, along with his friend Warren Wilson, had been asked to provide extra security around Dr. King while he was speaking. "We were both tall, gangly guys," Raveling told TIME in 2003. "We didn't know what we were doing but we certainly made for a good appearance."

Moved by the speech, Raveling saw the folded papers in King’s hands and asked if he could have them. King gave the young volunteer the speech without hesitation, and that was that.

“At no time do I remember thinking, ‘Wow, we got this historic document,’” Raveling told Sports Illustrated in 2015. Not realizing he was holding what would become an important piece of history in his hands, Raveling went home and stuck the three sheets of paper into a Harry Truman biography for safekeeping. They sat there for nearly two decades while Raveling developed an impressive career coaching NCAA men’s basketball.

In 1984, he had recently taken over as the head coach at the University of Iowa and was chatting with Bob Denney of the Cedar Rapids Gazette when Denney brought up the March on Washington. That's when Raveling dropped the bomb: “You know, I’ve got a copy of that speech," he said, and dug it out of the Truman book. After writing an article about Raveling's connection, the reporter had the speech professionally framed for the coach.

Though he displayed the framed speech in his house for a few years, Raveling began to realize the value of the piece and moved it to a bank vault in Los Angeles. Though he has received offers for King’s speech—one collector wanted to purchase the speech for $3 million in 2014—Raveling has turned them all down. He has been in talks with various museums and universities and hopes to put the speech on display in the future, but for now, he cherishes having it in his possession.

“That to me is something I’ll always be able to look back and say I was there,” Raveling said in the original Cedar Rapids Gazette article. “And not only out there in that arena of people, but to be within touching distance of him. That’s like when you’re 80 or 90 years old you can look back and say ‘I was in touching distance of Abraham Lincoln when he made the Gettysburg Address.’"

“I have no idea why I even asked him for the speech,” Raveling, now CEO of Coaching for Success, has said. “But I’m sure glad that I did.”

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