For someone like me, the hype surrounding Brewers baseball never ends. Between exciting offseason moves, the forthcoming annual “Brewers On Deck” fan festival and new logos and uniforms, it’s rare for me to not have something Brewers related on my mind.
And perhaps the most exciting offseason news is finally here for me personally: the team’s annual announcement of their giveaway schedule for the upcoming season.
I unabashedly love stadium giveaways (“SGA” for the uninitiated) — to the point where my plans during baseball season are largely dictated by what new tzotchke is being offered at Miller Park on any given day. Besides the sheer novelty of the items, I often love them because they help to define the team at any given point by providing a time capsule of who or what is important in that moment and can possess a significance which isn’t fully realized until months or years later.
As we look forward to the Brewers’ 50th anniversary season and what amazing goodies they have in store, I thought it would be fun to look back on the past decade of SGAs and rank the seasons from worst to best based entirely on my own internal kitschy barometer and appreciation for anything handed out at the gates of Miller Park. Let’s begin.
#10 – 2012
Despite coming off a stellar 2011 season which saw the team come to the National League Championship Series for the first time and win their most games in a single season, the 2012 giveaways were really lacking in both relative star power and novelty.
This was in part due to the loss of many of the team’s valuable players leaving in the offseason which assumedly left the team with little options but it was still a shame they couldn’t capitalize on this postseason success more. This is perhaps evidenced most clearly in the choice to have a Uecker bobble in his Milwaukee Braves uniform — a time period of his career which is more of a meme than a highlight.
At the very least, we received a Jonathan Lucroy bobble with a pinstripe variant hidden in 5,000 boxes of an all fan giveaway (a fun element of surprise I wish they would bring back) but everything else was simply yawn-inducing.
#9 – 2011
While the aforementioned 2011 season is one which fans will never forget, the giveaways were nothing much to write home about. There was at least more star power than the succeeding year in a bobble for future team manager Craig Counsell and star pitcher Zack Greinke but even the former freebie seems more like he is about to throw a baseball at an overhead bird than to any other player.
Aside from that, this season also gave us a Casey McGehee bobblehead mounted on a giant cheese wheel — a collectible I stumbled upon and is currently in my garage for no other reason than so I can say to people: “I inexplicably own a Casey McGehee bobblehead mounted to a giant cheese wheel”. This is a surefire conversation starter.
#8 – 2014
2014 was clearly a year where the Brewers decided to step up their game when it came to giveaways. Six different shirts were given away to all fans throughout the season in addition to the typical bobbleheads and there was even the first “Zubazpalooza” theme night where Zubaz(!) pants were given away to those with special ticket packages.
The bobbleheads were pretty special too with Hank the Dog receiving his first bobblehead after wandering into Spring training and being adopted by the team’s vice president earlier that year and a fantastic Carlos Gomez bobble being up for grabs where he is catching a ball against a wall while wearing his Gold Glove award from the previous season.
The most interesting bobble of the year however (and one which personally raises the profile of this year) is the Jim Henderson one. According to the fansite “Milwaukee Brewers Bobbleheads“, it was produced as a part of a fan vote which took place before Henderson was placed on the 60 day disabled list and failed to successfully close a single game. While a bobblehead of a player who doesn’t meet expectations isn’t remarkable in and of itself, the truck that was set to deliver the bobble was also delayed due to mechanical issues and barely arrived in time the night before the game where it was to be handed out.
While I don’t believe this bobblehead is cursed, I certainly don’t believe it isn’t cursed either.
#7 – 2019
Going into last season, the Brewers giveaway selection looked like one of the all-time greats. With both Jesus Aguilar and Jeremy Jeffress coming off of All-Star seasons, bobbleheads for them seemed like a no brainer and a bobble for new catcher Yasmani Grandal was a safe bet too. However, by season’s end, Aguilar and Jeffress were no longer with the team due to extended slumps and Grandal would leave for the Chicago White Sox soon after. In other words, the bobbles were almost immediately dated and sad reminders of what could have been.
Despite this, we still received an incredibly kinetic Josh Hader bobblehead, the beautiful “Orlando Calrissian” Star Wars theme night bobblehead, and a stellar MVP Yelich bobble which, in a rare occasion, completely sold out a game and led to it being something of a rarity on the resale market. We even received a retro Brewers fanny pack in June which has become my fashion-forward means of storing my phone and loose change at games ever since.
#6 – 2013
2013 is something of an oddity of the early decade when it comes to giveaways as the selection of goodies has aged surprisingly well with items highlighting both well-known and obscure Brewers legends along with fan favorite players of the time.
Fans had the chance to snag Corey Hart in a 1913 Milwaukee Brewers minor league uniform, Gorman Thomas in a Seattle Pilots uniform (despite never playing for the team) and Ryan Braun with a literal stolen base to celebrate his 30 homerun/30 steal season in 2012, just to name a few of the unique handouts. The highlight of the season in my opinion was a Hank Aaron bobble adorned in a Milwaukee Braves uniform due simply to how it immortalizes arguably the city’s first superstar athlete in bobblehead form.
#5 – 2017
2017 is a season which will always hold a very special place in my heart, and it’s all thanks to a magical beard powered shirt.
To make a long story short, the delightfully goofy Eric Thames shirt which was given away to all fans on a fateful June night is the reason I am such a dedicated fan now. Like the best giveaway items should, it attracted me to the game with it’s low, low cost of “free” and thrived on the zeitgeist surrounding a player — in this case, Korean Baseball Organization superstar Eric Thames and his explosive first season in Milwaukee — and ultimately led me to fall in love with the team.
Life-changing nights aside, a majority of the giveaways from the rest of the season are equally fun. These include: a Jonathan Villar bobblehead with a working “stolen base counter”, Robin Yount on a motorcycle from his legendary ride in County Stadium, a Bob Uecker magic 8 ball, and even Bernie Brewer claiming the Iron Throne for the team’s first “Game of Thrones” theme night.
Number 4 – 2016
Like 2017, 2016 was a year of extreme quirk when it came to giveaways. Hank the Dog received a literal barking bobblehead, four(!) Brewers were transformed into the Ghostbusters for a bobble, and Will Smith received his own “Fresh Prince” inspired jersey for 90s night.
The holy grail of 2016 though was the talking Bob Uecker alarm clock. If I was simply ranking which giveaway of the past 10 years was the best, it would likely be this beauty for how it captures everything I love about SGAs. It is silly and unnecessary while simultaneously being a “must-have” based on those same merits. No one needs an alarm clock where Bob Uecker yells at you to wake up but dammit, I sure feel like I need it.
#3 – 2015
When compared to the previous two entries, 2015 seems pretty tame in comparison with its SGAs but it also possesses what I would consider some of the most iconic Brewers items of the past decade.
Former Brewers team president, owner and Milwaukee native, Bob Selig, finally received a bobblehead with a unique brick backdrop, the first Star Wars theme night came to Miller park and with it a perfectly named “Jedi Luc” (Jonathan Lucroy) bobble, and Bob Uecker received two fantastic bobbleheads which brought some of his greatest national accomplishments to life.
The first of these captured Ueck’s role as broadcaster Harry Doyle in the cult classic 1989 comedy “Major League” which was filmed in the old Milwaukee County Stadium and actually recited lines from the film. The other came only three weeks later in the form of Bob Uecker from his iconic Miller Lite commercials from the 80s and was modeled after the statue which can be found in section 422 of Miller Park which referenced the same commercials.
2015 also saw the abrupt rise and fall of the “garden gnome giveaways” which saw players Matt Garza and Scooter Gennett immortalized as everyone’s favorite lawn ornaments. I can’t decide yet if I loathe or love this decision as it means we will never get a Christian Yelich in gnome form…
#2 – 2010
In 2010, the Brewers were celebrating their 40th anniversary season and similar to the upcoming 50th anniversary season, held four retro weekend bobblehead giveaways to celebrate historical moments from each decade. While the giveaway selection was bare bones compared to more recent years, these time capsules were the definition of “quality over quantity”.
Hank Aaron hitting his final home run was immortalized as the moment of the ’70s, Cecil Cooper winning game five of the 1982 ALCS for the ’80s, Robin Yount’s 3000th career hit for the ’90s and CC Sabathia closing the 2008 season and clinching the playoffs for the ’00s. Each moment features a key attention to detail and have a certain element of respect for the past which pushes them past a simple promotional item (if you can ignore the sponsorship logo of course).
In spite of this excellence, my favorite giveaway of the year and one which almost pushes this season to legendary status is the eldritch horror which is the “Miller Lite Bottle Beer Vendor” bobblehead.
The Brewers are no strangers to anthropomorphized promotional items with the Racing Sausages and the newly revived Barrelman but at least in the case of those, there seemed to have been some genuine effort to make those characters likable. In the case of this thing though, legs and arms were simply attached to a beer bottle and the job was considered “done”. I would almost feel bad for the creature if it wasn’t for the fact that he is serving smaller versions of himself to unsuspecting patrons.
What I’m trying to say is, if you are going to give away a terrifying bobblehead, you can’t make it much better than this. 10/10
#1 – 2018
Not only was 2018 the Brewers’ best year since 2011 in terms of on-field success, it’s also the absolute best season for giveaways in the past 10 years and potentially ever.
The selection of bobbleheads was insane as the gamut was run from serious to silly with Eric Thames and Lorenzo Cain bobbleheads existing alongside Brewers-themed Captain America and Snoopy with “The Gauntlet” celebration bobble featuring Ryan Braun and Orlando Arcia being sprinkled in-between.
Maybe fashion was more your style? Well, you could essentially start a small Brew Crew wardrobe if you went to every apparel giveaway in 2018. Lightweight hoodies led into shirts, tank tops and replica jerseys before the year ended with an absurdly comfortable crew neck sweatshirt.
If neither bobbleheads or apparel got you excited, then surely you could appreciate a wall flag, a talking Bob Uecker bottle opener, or a mini replica BULLPEN CAR.
Basically, 2018 had something for everyone. I remember nearly every homestand was an event for someone as obsessed about the team as myself and it even reached a point where I got to know the gate attendants where my wife and I always entered and handed us the item of the day.
It’s hard to imagine baseball without promos like these, no matter how “good” or “bad” they are. SGAs have become a part of the modern baseball experience. While I understand the criticism that such items take away from the performances on the field, I think they add to the overall enjoyment of a game.
Seeing tens of thousands of fans all open up the same gift, think about where they’re going to place it in their home or who they’ll give it to and maybe even trade someone for something from a few seasons back is such a strangely beautiful communal experience unlike anything else.
Special thanks to Jake Paulson whose fansite “Milwaukee Brewers Bobbleheads” does the invaluable work of archiving every bobblehead given away at Miller Park since they were introduced in 2001 and was incredibly useful in gathering the information for this article.
The Brewers 2020 promotional giveaway schedule can be found here.