2K Sports and the Cultural Relevance of Bobbleheads


Baseball video games usually release in early March, when the sport is starting to appear on televisions and people are getting the itch to wander outside and play it themselves.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” says video games.  “Get back in here.  Sit down, postpone that doctor’s appointment, open one of those beers you stole off the back of your neighbor’s truck, and spend the afternoon in an increasingly detailed alternate reality where you are physically capable of becoming a league MVP.”

“Well… my leg wound is looking pretty gangrenous, but okay,” you reply, abandoning your car keys and flopping down in the recliner.

But it’s not only dimensions with regular-shaped people that baseball fans can escape to.  There are a lot of planes of existence out there, video games tell us, and baseball’s not immune to reality shifts from time to time.  It’s been played by robots with jetpacks and used as an antidote for the zombie apocalypse.  Truly, it is a versatile game that so easily translates between generations/dimensions.

For it wasn’t always video games that endlessly enthralled the masses.  There was once a time when all that was needed to send an entire crowd into fits of laughter and applause was a plastic, besmirched little dewdrop with a continuously telescoping spine:  The bobblehead.

The origin of small plastic people with loosely coiled wire for a neck has been suggested to be hidden in the pages of a short story penned in 1892 by Nikolai Gogol, called “The Overcoat.”  It’s about a Russian copy clerk saving up enough money to buy a jacket made of cats so everyone at work will stop picking on him.  The story takes an abrupt twist when the main character dies of the cold and becomes a ghost, haunting people to steal their coats.

You may, at this point, be wondering what in gods name this has to do with bobbleheads, and the answer is “almost nothing,” except for a description of the protagonist’s neck.

"“…like the necks of plaster cats which wag their heads”"

And just like that, the bobblehead was born, sort of.

Through the years, Major League Baseball made the obvious leap of logic that this description of a 19th century Russian office worker named Akaky Akakievich Bashmachkin was a marketing gold mine.  Thus, they released 16 identical bobbleheads for each Major League team; all smiling cheekily, all undoubtedly coming to life at night and murdering their owners.

Today, we have things like fantasy sports and video games to take us away from the bouncy, murderous grins of souvenirs from a few decades ago.   But if Ukrainian authors and 1960s Major League Baseball proved to us anything, anything at all, it was that the bobblehead can be dropped anywhere, at anytime, and fit right the hell in.

Which must have been the topic of conversation in the 2K Sports board room at some point; connecting the two surging merchandise superpowers of bobbleheads and video games across time, into one irreversible cycle of baseball novelty that many fans of both mediums will find unbelievable, and probably in the end, worthless.

Welcome to the age of MLB Bobblehead Pros.  We are witnessing a radical birth of hybrid baseball thinking not seen since the inception of “Dollar Dog Night.”

Accepting the gravity of their new release, 2K Sports kept the title deep, deep under the radar.  It’s development was quarantined to only the shadiest subterranean portions of their corporate headquarters.  It’s creators were contractually obligated to not utter a sentence on it’s progress, under the penalty of instant termination; both from their jobs and from being alive.

Only now, as it has bounced gracefully through the annals of the ESRB rating committee, has the company deemed it appropriate for the existence of MLB Bobblehead Pros to be revealed.  Relieved breaths were taken by the publishers when it was announced their game would fly under the flag of an “E (Everyone)” rating.  The appearance of freakish, giant-headed versions of professional baseball players gave select few members of trial groups nightmares for the rest of their lives, therefore skewing the assumption that ESRB’s rating would definitely be the lowest possible.

This is hardly 2K’s first foray into the “Deformed Baseball Player” genre.  MLB Stickball did it.  MLB Fantasy All-Stars turned players into oddly proportioned cartoon versions of themselves, starring Jose Reyes as a man with a single, mouth-engulfing tooth.  And MLB Superstars was clearly just batshit insanity.  That leaves us with MLB The Bigs, 2K’s most successful franchise, which created numerous productive afternoon activities for baseball fans everywhere.

So where are we in this jungle of MLB merchandising through time?  Barely anywhere.  But now we can proudly say that we lived in the age when novelties were beginning to stack themselves on top of each other, creating an era of such superfluous crap, that there is never any shortage of things to write about. Even when no one’s played any pro baseball for three months.

Call to the Pen will keep you warm in the coming months.  Just wrap yourself in us via Facebook, Twitter, or RSS Feed.