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Fans' Trust In Buck Showalter Steers Gnome Promotion His Way

July 16, 2015

It's no secret Buck Showalter wasn't tickled when he heard the Orioles were planning to "honor" him this season by giving fans a garden gnome with his likeness.

"What is the purpose?" Showalter asked reporters during spring training, when he was told that the promotion was officially on the schedule. "Do people get up in the morning, and they go, ‘Honey, are we going to the game today? … They've got that gnome tonight. Pack up the kids. We're going?' ... Really?"

But Showalter really should be happy. It could have been worse.

Orioles 2015: Buck Showalter (in dugout, arms crossed)
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox

In the never-ending quest to find the next big thing, some teams have given away Russian nesting dolls in players' images.

"It's amazing," said Kristen Schultz, director of community relations and promotions for the Orioles. "I don't really understand those."

But Schultz and O's vice president of communications and marketing Greg Bader do understand how important promotions like the Showalter gnome giveaway are to the fans and team. 

"It's just crazy how people just love those types of items," Schultz said. "I was standing there when the gates opened, and lines had been forming since early that afternoon during the first game, and there was literally a huge cheer as the gates opened. And then, watching people's faces just light up when they received their gnome. They were just ecstatic. It was a sight to see."

Bader said the O's want to have a diverse array of giveaways throughout the year -- some geared toward kids, some toward men, some toward women.

"When we look at scheduling promotional items, our philosophy, in many ways, is to make what we think would be ‘good' selling games great," Bader said. "We want to take what we think would be a strong crowd and make it a sellout -- make it the game everybody wants to come to. That's where you see an item like the gnome targeted for a Saturday in June, when school is out of session. Those are some great attendance days for us, and we thought it would help us move the needle further."

And while garden gnomes aren't as popular as bobbleheads yet, MLB teams have scheduled 14 gnome giveaways this year, according to (and I'm not making this up) The Bobblehead Blog, which calls itself "a site dedicated to the best baseball collectible." (Find it at bobblenews.wordpress.com, if you must.) 

Issue 211: Buck Showalter Garden Gnome

Showalter is in good company. This year, the Los Angeles Dodgers had gnome night for Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda. The Pittsburgh Pirates had one for manager Clint Hurdle, and the Cardinals had one for Hall of Famer Whitey Herzog, who was passed by Showalter May 29 on the all-time managerial victories list.

Bader said the idea for the Showalter gnome night had its genesis when a small group of the team's executives got together around a conference table and starting throwing around ideas for 2015 promotions.

"We talk about what was successful for us this past year, what was successful for other clubs in other markets, and to try to get ahead of what some of the trends may be for the next year," Bader said.

According to Bader, no one from the group can remember who had the gnome idea, but once it was on the table, the conversation quickly turned to Showalter. When he was named 2014 American League Manager of the Year, the decision was "cemented," Bader said.

Knowing Showalter would be uncomfortable with the attention, Bader said the front office gave the manager "some selective information."

"Any time that the attention is turned toward Buck, he becomes more uncomfortable," Bader said. "He knows that it's the players on the field that deserve all of the credit and should be the focus of fans' attention.

"But in the marketing world and in the business side of our organization, we see Buck as one of, if not the most popular Oriole personality, and one that our fans trust and admire and love. So, from our standpoint, he is the perfect choice for that type of promotion. Obviously, from his standpoint, he would point to 25 guys on the team before he would point to himself."

If you're one of the 25,000 Orioles fans who got a Showalter gnome with the idea of selling it on eBay, you had better act fast.

There are 146 gnomes listed at prices ranging from $26 to $105, as of July 6. There are even two offers to sell just the box the gnome came in.

Robbie Davis Sr., who owns Robbie's First Base, a sports memorabilia store in Timonium, Md., said he expects the price to settle at around $40 to $45.

"It's hot right now, and it's hot, because people around here are on it," Davis said.

Davis doesn't have any of the gnomes in his store yet, but he said he expects to get some.

"They just came out," Davis said. "Most of the people who got them are not collectors. They're just people who went to the game and got them. And those are the people who will get rid of them to shops. But the hype has to wear off, and that hasn't happened yet, because it's too new."

In addition to the manager gnomes that have been given away, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim outfielder Mike Trout, Washington Nationals outfielder Jayson Werth and Texas Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus have gnomes in their likenesses.

While there are still a number of top-flight Orioles promotions left in 2015, it's not too early to wonder what's in store for Showalter and the Birds in 2016. Could a Russian nesting doll of Showalter's likeness be far behind?

Issue 211: July 2015