The all-new Cleveland Guardians makes its baseball debut on April 7. That gives Andy Thoele another souvenir helmet to collect.
Thoele started collecting souvenir helmets — all made of plastic, of course — in 1998 because, as he says on his website mlbsouvenirhelmets.com he "wanted to collect some type of baseball item that was cheap and easy to find, and I figured that souvenir helmets fit that description perfectly."
Now, Thoele owns more than 400 souvenir helmets of major league teams, including defunct teams such as the Houston Colt 45s, which later became the Astros.
Batting helmets debuted as a safety measure in the 1950s, and were made by several companies, according to Thoele's research. Two of the major ones were Bobbie Industries Inc. of Buffalo, N.Y., and Sports Products Corp., which was part of injection molder Laich Industries of Cleveland.
Laich went bankrupt in 2005 as part of a downturn in the U.S. housewares market. Owner Walter Laich at one time even made an unsuccessful bid to buy the Cleveland Indians, the team that was renamed the Guardians starting with the 2022 season. Laich bid $30 million for the team in 1984. It's now valued at almost $1.2 billion.
As for current souvenir helmet production, Thoele said in an email to Plastics News that "I feel it's like the wild, wild west."
"It seems like everybody and their cousins are producing these, or more importantly, importing these from China," he added. "Many of the stadium giveaway ones are kind of cheap and the straps in them are junk."
Like many collectors, Thoele has standards.
"I'm kind of worried about them dying out as now they are making the full size helmets to hold nachos at the ballparks," he said. "I refuse to collect those as they aren't truly meant to be worn, as there is no strap in them."
It's become more difficult for Thoele to find some older helmets, as interest in collectibles has grown.
"My website has kind of inspired others to start collecting," he said. "Many of those people who write to me talk about wanting/seeing/buying those old helmets as children of the mid to late 60s and early 70s.
"People always ask where I find my helmets and I can't tell them every place where I look. I only steer them toward eBay, thus which has hurt some of my collecting in recent years," he said.
And just like baseball, souvenir helmet collecting has a season, which also is starting now.
"This is the prime season when helmets start to show up," Thoele said. "The MLB season starts up and so do garage sales and people cleaning out their closets and attics. Helmet collecting always dies down over the winter months."