#Shortstops: Baby Talk

Written by: Rachel Wells

If you had a pulse during the 1990s, you probably were familiar with Beanie Babies.

The tiny bean bag animals produced by Ty Inc. took the nation by storm starting in the last years of the 20th century, driving throngs of children and avid collectors to rush to their local toy stores in hopes of finding the most valuable and rarest Beanie Babies. Fights broke out at McDonald’s in 1998 in order to secure the Teenie Babies that came with Happy Meals, and the Princess bear (sold in honor of the late Princess Diana) was purchased with many believing that it would one day fund their retirement.

So when John McDonough, Vice President of Marketing and Broadcasting for the Chicago Cubs saw his daughter’s Beanie Baby collection – particularly one named Cubbie the Bear – the idea seemed like a no-brainer. On May 18, 1997, the Chicago Cubs held a Beanie Baby giveaway day, offering free Cubbie the Bear Beanie Babies to the first 10,000 children to enter the stadium. The promotion drew a crowd of 37,598, selling out Wrigley Field. Shortly after, other MLB teams followed suit.

Twenty-two Major League Baseball teams would end up hosting Beanie Baby giveaways from 1997 to 2003, drawing thousands of additional fans to stadiums in hopes of obtaining Beanie Babies like Stretch the Ostrich, Blizzard the Tiger or Roary the Lion. Ty also worked with Major League Baseball to produce three Beanie Babies with special tags meant to represent some of the most popular players at the time: Mac the Cardinal for Mark McGwire, Rocket the Blue Jay for Roger Clemens and Sammy the Bear for Sammy Sosa. Each toy received its own giveaway day at its respective stadium.

On May 17, 1998, fans at Yankee Stadium received Valentino the Bear Beanie Babies at a game where David Wells pitched a perfect game. (Milo Stewart Jr./National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum)

The teams that handed out Beanie Babies also saw record crowds, often drawing in thousands of additional hopeful Beanie Baby collectors to the stadiums on giveaway days. Often, increased security measures had to be taken to handle the pandemonium that would result from the handouts, as fans would camp out overnight and attendees would wait with cash in hand to purchase beanies from fans. As The New York Times reported in 1998, at an Oakland A’s giveaway a plane flew overhead with a banner reading “Call Me for Your Beanie Babies”.

“To me, the beauty of it is that it's giving kids kind of a baseball baptism,” McDonough told the Associated Press in 1998, “It if helps them ignite an interest in baseball, if it's their first experience and the Beanie Babies are kind of the linchpin to do that, great.”

Sometimes, the fans who attended these games left with more than just a free toy. For example, the fans who attended the Yankees vs. Twins game on May 17, 1998, not only received a free Valentino the Bear (like the one in the Museum’s collection) but also watched David Wells pitch a perfect game. And though the value of the Beanie Babies that fans received at baseball games may not promote early retirement, the memories that come with them are priceless.

Rachel Wells is the reference librarian at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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