Aaron Green / Lantern reporter
On a sunny Sunday afternoon, high atop the president’s suite along the first base side of Huntington Park, 78-year-old Howard “Hopalong” Cassady watched as almost 2,000 bobbleheads bearing his likeness circulated throughout the ballpark.
Wearing a black and white, Hawaiian-style, button-up shirt, appropriate for the 85-degree game-time temperature, the former Ohio State Heisman-Trophy winner was at the ballpark because he was being honored by the Columbus Clippers as part of the organization’s “Columbus Icons Bobblehead Series.”
The special nine-game series is something the Clippers are doing to help celebrate Columbus’ bicentennial, and Sunday’s “Howard ‘Hopalong’ Cassady Bobblehead Day” was third game in which fans had an opportunity to purchase a bobblehead of a “Columbus Icon.”
“We used to do bobblehead nights for Major Leaguers who came through Columbus,” said Clippers media director Joe Santry. “Fans really liked it and we thought it would be good to do for the bicentennial.”
All nine bobbleheads in the series represent a specific genre of Columbus’ history, Santry said, and all of the honorees are from Columbus.
At the select games throughout the season, fans can purchase the bobblehead of the “Columbus Icon” being honored for $10 at the game or can buy a special $15 box-seat ticket that includes a voucher for the bobblehead. Tickets for box seats normally sell for $12.
One Clippers fan that likes the bobblehead idea is Columbus resident Dave Muir, who bought a Cassady bobblehead at the Sunday’s game.
“I think it’s great to honor the city’s own with bobbleheads,” he said. “The idea of ‘Columbus Icons’ to celebrate the city’s history is a really neat idea and I’ll try to collect as many as I can.”
Santry said the Clippers chose Cassady as a “Columbus Icon” to represent the professional athletes the city has produced.
Cassady, who declined to comment, played in the NFL from 1956 to 1963 with the Detroit Lions, Philadelphia Eagles and Cleveland Browns.
He was the first Heisman-Trophy winner born in Columbus, winning the award in 1955, his senior season with the Buckeyes. He was a two-time consensus All-American in football, helping OSU to the 1954 National Championship. He played baseball for the Buckeyes as well.
Following graduation, the Columbus-native received professional offers from the NFL and MLB. Choosing to stick with football, Detroit selected Cassady third overall in the 1956 NFL Draft, and won the NFL championship a year later in 1957.
After retiring from the NFL, Cassady became a special assistant in the New York Yankees organization in 1973 and was an assistant coach for the Clippers, who at the time was the Triple-A affiliate of New York, from 1992 to 2003.
Santry, who spent time with Cassady as the media director for the Clippers organization, said the former Buckeye is a wonderful person.
“He spent so many years with the organization, he is like a grandfather to us,” he said. “He’s a great guy.”
Santry would not admit that Cassady’s ties to the Clippers gave him an edge over the other Columbus natives considered for the professional athlete bobblehead, but he said “it didn’t hurt.”
Cassady is the first of three bobbleheads associated with OSU athletics. Bobbleheads of Olympian Jesse Owens and former Buckeyes football coach Woody Hayes will be available on July 29 and Aug. 12, respectively.
For some fans, the bobbleheads associated with OSU ties are the most sought after.
“Anytime I see a bobblehead of a former Buckeye being given out or available for purchase, I try to get it,” Larry Mitchell said. “I’ve got mostly football guys, so when I saw it was ‘Hop’ bobblehead day, I knew I had to come get one.”
Mitchell, from Pataskala, said he plans on returning for the Owens and Hayes bobbleheads to add to his collection of about 40 Buckeyes-related bobbleheads that he said he started after the football team won the 2002 National Championship.
“I have a lot of dust collectors,” he said with a grin.
The Clippers bobblehead series honors more than just Columbus’ sports history.
Non-sports related bobbleheads in the series include World War I veteran Eddie Rickenbacker, fast-food businessman Dave Thomas, the Columbus Zoo’s Jack Hanna and author James Thurber.
“It’s a cool idea to celebrate not only the city’s sports history, but other aspects of our city’s rich history,” Muir said.