Matt Hirsch is Canadian born and bred. While he loves hockey, the country’s national sport, the British Columbia native’s sport is baseball, a game that he embraced as a young child and one of which he never let go.
Hirsch, 57, is an artist. He lives in Surrey, BC, just outside of Vancouver, and it is from his home that he has forged his reputation as The Catman, one of the hottest and most marketable names in the world of sports collecting. Hirsch prefers to call the pieces he creates bobbin’ heads as opposed to bobbleheads – because the heads really do bob. Whatever name you choose to place on his work, it is his bobbin’ heads, particularly his baseball pieces, which are among the most sought after in the bobblehead community.
Consider that his baseball pieces, which he produces in extremely limited numbers, regularly sell for more than $600 on the secondary market and auction sites. Some have cleared the $1,000 threshold while others have gone much higher than that.
Much of what he creates stems from his love of baseball. He began making baseball bobbin’ heads a quarter of a century ago and his first baseball pieces were of Mickey Mantle. He has covered many of the greats from the second half of the 20th century, including Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Jackie Robinson and Satchel Paige as well as well players such as Rickey Henderson and Vlad Guerrero – Senior and Junior. Hirsch’s reputation is such, in part, that when he made 27 of Vlad Guerrero, Sr. in his Montreal uniform for an auction to benefit Montreal Children’s Hospital, the Hall-of-Famer consented to sign them.
Hirsch produces his bobbin’ heads in his garage kiln and then hand paints the molds. Up until recently, he numbered his pieces to correspondent with a player’s uniform number – Guerrero’s 27 for example – or with a corresponding accomplishment on the field. Lately he has scaled back, though, making more special orders and fewer pieces per set to make it tougher for some unscrupulous collectors who have tried to rip him off or use his name to their advantage.
“Even the name Mickey Mantle. It’s such a great name. His pure raw power was amazing. Mickey just seemed to be the number one guy for collecting baseball bobbing heads.”
GROWING UP IN WESTERN CANADA
Hirsch was first introduced to baseball when he was in grade school and quickly became a fan of the Oakland A’s during the early 70s. He watched as Oakland won three consecutive World Series and was then enthralled with the classic 1975 World Series between Cincinnati and Boston. It was the beginning of a lifelong love affair with the sport.
“I started watching with my dad and I can remember that [Oakland] team quite vividly,” Hirsch said. “And Game Six in the ’75 World Series, I was watching that with my dad, too. I was about 10 at the time. I started playing, too, at an early age, when I was in Grades 1 or 2. It was just on school teams but I just loved baseball.
“The place where I lived, The Whalley Little League team, has been to the Little League World Series a few times. I was always going there [to their field], hanging out, going to games or collecting balls when they were hit out of the park. I would just hang around the park and watch batting practice and learn from it. I just loved playing in school.”
Hirsch, who was an outfielder with a strong arm, said that he always wanted to join a “hardball” team and continue playing at a more advanced level. However, he had five brothers and sisters and affording such a venture, both financially and time wise, proved difficult in the mid-to-late 1970s. He said that his mother was in need of help at the time as well so he opted to spend more time with her and provide her with what she needed instead of playing baseball.
“I kind of regret not making a run at a career in baseball,” Hirsch said. “I could really hit. I was a home run hitter.”
So instead of playing baseball, Hirsch began collecting baseball memorabilia and making his own. He mostly drew images and colored throughout grade school, with his favorite work being the copies of Major League Baseball logos. He would painstakingly make each one, ensuring that they were as exact as possible.
“I would make them individually in color and felt,” Hirsch said. “The Cubs, the Mets, the Yankees, I would draw the logos and cut them out and color them the exact way they were, the early 70s logos. I couldn’t afford the pennants so I made them myself.
“When I moved to Prince Rupert for a year in 1977 I actually created a major-league stadium for my mom. I made Dodger Stadium and pieced it together with paper. I got the green felt for the turf and different colors for the stands, three different levels. I made a complete stadium but I don’t know what happened to it. It was actually quite big; five feet by five feet. I put it together by hand. I was really into designing things. I just loved watching baseball and making the team logos.”
Hirsch was a big Montreal Expos fan. They were the only Canadian team for much of his childhood and he was enamored with the likes of Gary Carter, Andre Dawson and Rusty Staub. He speaks fondly of Wednesday and Saturday games broadcast on the CBC, listening to former Brooklyn Dodger great Duke Snider handling the color commentary.
“The Duke was really good with the Expos,” Hirsch said. “He was doing the commentating with [Marlins announcer] David Van Horne. I would listen to them all the time.”
When the Blue Jays arrived in Toronto Hirsch began following them as well. He even got the chance to see the Jays host the Royals, pointing out that seeing George Brett play “was a real thrill”.
It wouldn’t be long, though, before Hirsch would be thrilling fans with his own brand.
THE CATMAN COMETH
Hirsch acquired his nickname – The Catman – in 1977 at a Prince Ruppert, B.C. golf course. The club pro would call him Matt the Cat and Hirsch’s brother later shortened it to Catman. Hirsch originally started out making bobbin’ heads of teams and players in the Canadian Football League in the late 1980s, early 1990s.
He became well known in Western Canada, hawking his wares at collectible shows before his name brand – he was now using The Catman moniker – started to take off. He said he sold hundreds of pieces before EBay took off and as the decade progressed he grew bigger and his love for baseball began to show up in his work. He says baseball represents the largest percentage of several hundred bobbin’ heads he produces each year.
“I was inspired by the history of baseball,” Hirsch said. “It’s history and it’s memorabilia. When I do my baseball stuff, I usually [add] something special on the bases. I love the old stadiums; they are the best thing about any sport. I love the historic stadiums, the way they are constructed, the way they are made and how every one of them is so different. In the old days, each stadium was different, each had its own uniqueness.”
Hirsch said many of his first baseball bobbin’ heads were of Mantle. He said that perhaps he made between 50 and 100 of them. There aren’t many available and because they come up for sale so infrequently the price for one of these early pieces can top $1,000. Hirsch, however, says he no longer has any of his early Mantles. While he has some original pieces he created more than two decades ago, none are Mantles, which he said sold out quickly once he began going to card shows in the 1990s. Hirsch added that he didn’t make very many of them and that now maybe fewer than 20 exist.
“I liked the way Mantle played, the way he hit the ball,” Hirsch said. “He was just so respected by everyone. Even the name Mickey Mantle. It’s such a great name. His pure raw power was amazing. Mickey just seemed to be the number one guy for collecting baseball bobbing heads. It was one of my first baseball molds.
Matt Hirsch working in his studio.
“I really enjoy all the classic all-time great players. My passion is for the nostalgia surrounding the older players. I love the uniqueness of the old players in the 1960s. They were worshipped. It was wow, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays. Are you kidding me? That’s the biggest thing ever. I think the older players were more respected, that’s why I try to focus on them. I love their greatness, the nostalgia and the history. They are just on a different level to me than the new players.”
Hirsch also fancies doing mascots and Chief Wahoo is among his favorites. He has produced several versions of Wahoo with some of the older ones going for more than $500 on the secondary market.
“There is just something about Wahoo that I love to do,” he said. “It’s so historic. I think it represents a lot. It’s a shame that some of these teams have to get rid of their names and logos. Everyone thinks that everyone is using the image in a bad way but I don’t. I think they are using it in a good way. It’s important to remember Native Americans and the Native Canadians. I think they are using the name to pay homage. I don’t think they are using the name to make fun of any one in any way. But everything is so political.”
Hirsch said he has plans for another new Wahoo in the near future. He has also made St. Louis Cardinals, Toronto Blue Jays and is planning on doing a Mr. Met “one of these days”.
DOWN BUT NOT OUT
The Catman had gained in popularity through the early part of this century and appeared to be on the verge of going from one of the biggest things in the sports collecting world to perhaps the biggest thing in that circle when a life-altering evident nearly took everything away.
Hirsch was involved in a devastating car accident in 2009. He was t-boned by an 86-year-old woman and would spent the next four years simply trying to recover from his injuries. He spent years doing rehab while working to get not get addicted to the pain medication that he was constantly taking. While it took some time, Hirsch slowly healed and his health returned.
While Hirsch would recover, it took a bit of time for him to heal completely. He had some left-side nerve and tissue damage with which he had to contend but that has largely subsided. Initially, though, he had trouble holding things with his left hand and that led to him not being able to work. So, it was several years before he got back to producing bobbing heads on a full-time basis.
There were rumors that he had died, rumors that he had retired and even doubters who didn’t believe he was who he said he was after returning to work in 2018 following his lengthy convalescence. But he has silenced his critics, who he believes were only critical because his return to work meant that his early pieces would not have as much value as they would if he were dead or unable to continue working.
Hirsch is currently taking a bit of a break for the summer following what has been a very busy 14-to-15 month stretch. He was active during the Covid-19 lockdowns, making pieces for those collectors who were shut out from attending games and acquiring stadium giveaways in 2020.
When he does return to work Hirsch said he will attempt some different things, different players, even different genres.
“Sometimes I just look at what I have and think ‘I haven’t made that person yet or maybe I should do a new one of that person’,” Hirsch said. “I have all the sports. I don’t do many basketball, though. I kind of like doing different characters. A few years ago, I did a monster collection, Frankenstein, Dracula and the Wolf Man. In the future, I have to get into some things I haven’t done to keep my interest up. I don’t want to keep doing the same things over and over again.
“There are a lot of teams I have never done. I don’t think I have ever done a Diamondback. There are some Major League teams like Tampa that I haven’t done. I’m not a big fan of the newer teams, though. I like the traditional teams unless someone requests it. I find that most people who like my stuff like the old nostalgia.”
Hirsch, however, will continue his love affair with baseball. He enjoys producing baseball bobbin’ heads the most and is beginning to employ a new strategy when making them.
“Instead of trying to make 10 or 20, I’d really like to cut it down to one or two,” he said. “That way I can make everyone almost a one-of-a-kind. These days I am taking more time in the detail and making each one as good as it can get. I think people can appreciate that more than something there is a lot of. I like when someone gets one and says I’m the only person who has one.”
Hirsch can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.