Dying Cleveland man giving massive bobblehead collection to Hall of Fame (photos, video) By Marc Bona
Manak has amassed a collection of 1,564 bobbleheads, the tiny shaking-head figurines that are regular promotional giveaways at sporting events. It started in the late 1990s when he spotted a bobblehead display at the old Mr. Bill’s Tavern.
“I thought ‘wow, that’s cool,’ ” he said. “People would donate them.”
Something about the nodding figures got to Manak, and a hobby was born. He found himself scouring flea markets, having fun haggling over prices, and soon his West Side home filled with the miniature players, mascots, entertainers and assorted characters.
Now he’s getting rid of them, donating his collection to the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum in Milwaukee.
Bob Manak is dying.
“I need to clear up some space,” he said. “It’s kind of sad for me. It’s a big part of me. It’s 20 years of my life. It’s my legacy, basically.”
Manak’s colon cancer spread to his liver and lungs. He’s had three operations.
“There’s really nothing they can do for me now,” he said.
But that’s not stopping Manak, 57, from trying to do something for others.
Manak’s collection – which he estimates is worth about $15,000 – makes the home resemble an ongoing cocktail party of mostly tiny creatures, save for several three-foot tall bobbleheads towering over their pals.
There’s Brownie the Elf, which he found at the Indians team shop in Mentor years ago. “He’s scary-looking,” Manak says.
Other 36-inch tall bobbleheads include LeBron James, Chief Wahoo and former Indians slugger Travis Hafner.
“Chief Wahoo is my favorite,” Manak said. “I’m a big Indians fan.”
Trolling flea markets became a hobby. He made friends with vendors. Family members kept him in mind on Christmas lists. When the Indians released their annual promotional schedule, Manak would scan the dates with bobblehead giveaways and immediately buy a pair of tickets to each game.
“The deal was I’d buy tickets for friends, but I’d get the bobbleheads,” he said.
It was a good deal. His home is a de facto museum. A shelf inches from the ceiling in one room supports his diverse team of players, politicians, cartoon characters and others. Some are recognizable, others are nameless. Some stare, others pose in action. The juxtapositions are as wonderful as Manak’s laughter, which he sprinkles throughout conversation.
Spider-Man readies himself next to Adam Miller, former first-round draft pick of the Indians. Michael Brantley stands next to a hula dancer. Snow Miser is next to Kenny Lofton’s “The Catch.” But the best arrangement might be a foursome of Babe Ruth, a Playboy Bunny, the Pope and the Indians mascot, Slider.
He catalogued them until 2010, “then got lazy,” he said. “I didn’t know it would grow to be like this.”
Here’s a quick take on his collection:
* He estimates only about 25 percent or so are sports-oriented.
* About 20 talk. One depicts “American Idol” judge Simon Cowell admonishing a contestant as being “pathetic.”
* His favorites are mascots and advertising ones (Alka-Seltzer is a bobbing pill).
* He has nine different Uncle Sams.
* Amazingly, he doesn’t recall the very first one in his collection.
* Some double as banks, like a Key Bank bobblehead whose base is stacks of dollar bills.
* A Kent State bobblehead was the toughest for him to find.
* One of the rarest probably is a hand-made Ghoulardi, which an artist morphed from a Justin Timberlake bobblehead. It’s one of only a handful in the world.
* The last one he picked up is the quartet of Dutch Masters, the white-collared, cigar-shilling fellows.
Virtually all will be going to Milwaukee, but Manak said he might hold back Wahoo and Brownie for his nephews.
“I’ve been having a little fun going through these boxes,” he said. “It’s sad to see them go, but I want to see them go to someone.”
When he added a bobblehead, he would post a picture on Facebook, then store it. But about a year ago he converted a room to a man cave.
Many are packed, but hundreds were still out this week, offering splashes of color in Manak’s home, where they share space with neon signs, shot glasses and magnets, his other collectibles.
Manak, who grew up in Novelty and went to West Geauga High School and Kent State, previously served in the Army and worked in artillery and as a quartermaster in Korea and Germany. He worked at Gund Arena for 18 years as an usher and supervisor. It was during those days he used to go to Mr. Bill’s with colleagues and discovered bobbleheads.
Mr. Bill’s is gone, but bobbleheads keep coming out. They continue to be a mainstay on teams’ promotional schedules. This season, the Cleveland Indians, Akron RubberDucks, Lake County Captains, Lake Erie Crushers, Cleveland Monsters and Cleveland Cavaliers are offering a combined 16 bobbleheads among their giveaway dates.
Manak’s sister Carol reached out to the hall of fame last year, and Sklar responded with a thoughtful, hand-written note. That touched Manak and his family.
Now, Pedro Avalos, who lives in Akron and works with the hall, is helping pack the hobby for the journey to Milwaukee. Wednesday, family members took pictures as bobbleheads were displayed and sorted.
“They’re very fragile – just like you brother!” his sister kidded as Manak laughed.
“We get emails and calls all the time from people who have one or two or 10 or 100 to donate,” Sklar said. “It’s still exciting when people reach out to us.”
Sklar said the hall of fame, which became official in 2014, looks to find a brick and mortar home in the near future, probably within the planned Milwaukee Bucks entertainment district adjacent to the arena.
Sklar even said there is a chance Manak’s bobbleheads will become part of a traveling exhibit and make their way back to Cleveland.
“It’s obviously bittersweet and exciting to have that many (in the donation), but it’s also exciting to share his story and other collectors.”