This is a man-bites-dog story. Americans eat 20 billion hot dogs
a year, which works out to 60 sausages per citizen. Or so says
the National Hot Dog & Sausage Council, a wiener advocacy group
whose raw data (which also come grilled) project that 26 million
franks will be consumed this season in the 28 major league
baseball parks alone. Laid end to end, those dogs would stretch
from Baltimore to Los Angeles, a sausage superhighway. Come
follow its yellow center line: a trail of ballpark mustard
dispensed from a flatulent squeeze bottle.
This is an article from the July 8, 1996 issue
The road winds past Cooper Stadium in Columbus, Ohio, where the
Triple A Clippers host gluttonous Dime-a-Dog nights. On April
15, 3,395 paying customers at Cooper ate 21,365 Oscar Mayer
wieners, a frank-to-fan ratio of more than 6 to 1. Given that
some spectators abstained, one has to wonder....
"I've had people say they ate 15 to 20 dogs," says the Clippers'
general manager, whose name is Ken Schnacke. (Of course it is.)
He quickly adds, "We've never had anybody get ridiculously sick
and be taken to the hospital to have his stomach pumped." But as
baseball fans everywhere know, there's always next year!
The point is, Americans certainly ken schnacke, and in few
places do they snack more heavily than at baseball parks. The
reasons for this are manifold and, in the view of some experts,
quite complex. "Sports are a primitive ritual of aggression and
release--the id hangs out," Psychology Today editor Hara Estroff
Marano once told New York Times food writer Molly O'Neill, whose
brother Paul plays rightfield for the New York Yankees. "In such
a situation, the primitive part of the brain, 'Me want hot dog,'
overrides the restraints of the more rational part of the brain,
which would say, 'Am I hungry?' or 'Would I like a hot dog?'"
Tell Boog Powell that his id hangs out, and he's apt to check
his fly. The former first baseman for the Baltimore Orioles
knows only that food tastes better at the ballpark and that
every time the O's played in Milwaukee, his brain said, "Me want
bratwurst." So between at bats, he would dispatch a clubhouse
attendant to the stands to procure a pair of sausages slathered
in red sauce, later to be immortalized as Secret Stadium Sauce.
Standing in the tunnel behind the dugout, Boog would down those
brats in a violent trice, as if feeding timber to a wood
chipper. "Then I'd walk to the plate with red sauce all down the
front of my uniform," he recalls. "I'd tell the manager, 'I'm
bleeding like a stuck pig!'"
A giant man who bleeds condiments, Powell embodies the bond
between baseball and food, an association "as strong as the
movies and popcorn," according to sports sociologist Bob Brustad
of the University of Northern Colorado. In fact the sports-food
bond is stronger. When an ad man tried to encapsulate America
for his automaker client, he wrote, "Baseball, hot dogs, apple
pie and Chevrolet," front-loading the jingle with the two most
surefire evocations of American culture.
And you thought American culture was an oxymoron. "Of course
there is American culture," says Allen Guttmann, a professor of
American studies at Amherst. "It includes symphonies as well as
jazz, literature as well as comic books." And at its apex are
what Bob Dole calls "America's greatest diversions: sports and
If that description rings with American decadence--you can bet
Bangladeshi leaders don't call food a diversion--it happens to
be accurate. What is more diverting than eating a chocolate
sundae from an inverted miniature batting helmet while watching
other people work? What, for that matter, is more decadent?
Of all sports, baseball most vigorously stirs the appetite.
Because of the game's unhurried pace and frequent lulls,
baseball fans tend to make more trips to the concessions stands
than football, basketball or hockey crowds. In those last three
sports, "food sales are driven by intermissions," notes Michael
F. Thompson, president of Sportservice, which supplies seven
major league ballparks. "Baseball games are a constant,
leisurely grazing period."
In that spirit we invite you to graze.
Just as baseball's birthplace is disputed, sausage, too, comes
encased in controversy. Who conjoined the ballpark and the
frank? Was it St. Louis saloonkeeper Chris von der Ahe, who
owned the Browns baseball club and brought sausages to
Sportsman's Park near the turn of the century to serve as sop
for his popular beer? Or was it Harry M. Stevens, a former
bookseller who in 1901 began to sell 10-cent "dachshund"
sausages at the Polo Grounds in New York City? This much is
clear: When cartoonist Tad Dorgan captured the Polo Grounds
scene for The New York Evening Journal that year, his caption
shortened the vendors' pitch--"Get your red hot dachshunds!"--to
the snappier "Hot dogs!"
Still, one hopes the von der Ahe-Stevens matter is adjudicated
at the next meeting of the National Hot Dog & Sausage Council,
whose members rule on the world's wiener-related controversies
and are responsible, one suspects, for the diabolical fact that
hot dogs are sold in packs of 10, while hot dog buns come in
packs of eight.
In the hypercompetitive world of ballpark concessionaires, it
really is the size of the dog in the fight, and not the size of
the fight in the dog, that matters. "Ten to one" is food-service
shorthand that means 10 hot dogs will be produced from every
pound of beef, pork or poultry. A 10-to-1 frank is common in the
industry, though baseball's dogs tend to skew bigger. Volume
Services sells a zeppelinesque 2-to-1, or half pound, hot dog in
Kansas City and Minneapolis. In Kansas City it is called the
King Colossal (in Minneapolis, the Jumbo Dog), and it's the
biggest dog in the majors now that Vince Coleman is in the
minors. In short, the lower the ratio, the larger the sausage,
which means these numbers also serve handily as odds that a
given hot dog will kill you.
"One pig-out is not significant," says Patricia Hausman, author
of seven books on diet and nutrition, refusing to rain-delay our
parade. "But I think people have to ask themselves, Is what I
eat at the ball game representative of what I eat all the time?
If so, then they've got a real issue on their hands." With that
in mind, many stadiums now serve kosher franks, whose
ingredients have been blessed by a rabbi. San Francisco's 3Com
Park even offers something called a tofu dog. Tofu apparently
derives from toenail fungus, but the product's very inedibility
ensures against ill effects on one's health.
Kosher and tofu franks are but two of the myriad new offerings
from Major League Baseball's four principal concessionaires:
Aramark, Ogden, Sportservice and Volume Services. Big league
teams gross tens of millions of dollars a year from food sales,
so a popular new item, such as nachos, the surprise hit of the
last 15 years at major league parks, can be more valuable to a
franchise than a good lefthanded reliever.
Like baseball itself, concessions companies keep sophisticated
statistics. "White Sox fans tend to buy more apparel," says
Aramark's Bernhard Kloppenburg, who runs the food and
merchandise business at Camden Yards in Baltimore. "Yankee fans
tend to drink more beer." Kloppenburg proudly points out that
the Orioles' Cal Ripken Jr. wasn't the only record breaker at
Camden Yards last Sept. 6, the night he surpassed Lou Gehrig's
total of consecutive games played. Aramark did an absurd $40
per fan in sales that evening, to the delight of Fancy Clancy
and the Terminator, local beer hawkers whose sales totals can
earn them a chance to work the All-Star Game and other big
events (page 54).
Vendors and other ballpark food workers occupy their own
subculture. Some seem born for the job--the wearer of
beer-vendor badge number 0003 at Coors Field in Denver is named
Eric Beerman--and all use a lingua franca that is unintelligible
to outsiders (page 58). Say the words mother Merco, for
instance, and they'll know that you're talking about the most
essential of concessions-stand appliances. It is the
plastic-front wiener grill that allows patrons filing past to
view rows of hot dogs in repose, much as citizens of the former
Soviet Union once filed past the embalmed body of Lenin in
Moscow's Red Square. The difference, of course, is that mother
Merco's pilgrims come to stuff themselves.
Los Angeles has baseball's best-known dog-and-kraut combo, if
you no longer count Schottzie and Marge. "Nothing is as famous
as the Dodger Dog," notes Lon Rosenberg, Aramark's general
manager at Dodger Stadium, and this is as it should be, for L.A.
gave the world the hot-dog-shaped building (see Tail 'O' The Pup
on San Vicente Boulevard) and frankophile movie stars: Marlene
Dietrich's favorite meal was hot dogs and champagne, while
Humphrey Bogart once said, "A hot dog at the game beats roast
beef at the Ritz." You can just hear him, can't you?
The Dodger Dog's nearest rival is 3,000 miles away in Boston,
where the Fenway Frank generally cuts the mustard with the most
discerning of critics. "The dog was very good," says TV gourmand
Julia Child, recalling a Fenway Frank she recently digested.
"But the bun was wet and soggy."
In an unrelated bun-related incident, two former
concessions-stand workers at the Kingdome told The Seattle Times
in March that they had been instructed to pick the mold off hot
dog rolls before serving them to the public. The story is
credible because the Kingdome's concessions stands, run by
Ogden, have been cited 158 times in the last three years by the
Seattle-King County Department of Public Health for
ominous-sounding "red critical" food-safety violations.
Yet hot dogs continue to dominate ballpark food sales. King
Colossal indeed. "You'll find there are still six major food
groups," says Thompson of Sportservice. "There's a sausage
product--tube steak, as it's called in some places; popcorn;
soda or beer; nachos; peanuts; and malts and frozen things."
In this last category is the Dove Bar, which is giving some
stiff competition to the frosty malt as the frozen thing of
choice in many ballparks. The frosty malt, you might recall, is
a cup of chocolate-malt-flavored ice cream that comes with a
flimsy three-inch tongue depressor that its manufacturers
quaintly call a spoon. If the Dove Bar should displace the
frosty malt, it would be the death knell for yet another
baseball tradition. As Thompson concedes, "You can't throw the
lid of a Dove Bar," Frisbee-like, from the second deck of a
What price progress?
For the better part of this century, ballpark cuisine comprised
the few, unwavering, aforementioned staples. That all changed
with the advent of nachos: tortilla chips submerged in something
called "cheez," an orange substance with the viscosity and
thermal breakdown of 40-weight Pennzoil. People lapped it up,
Nonexistent in ballparks circa 1980, nachos now account for 8%
of all food sales in stadiums served by Sportservice. "Nachos
were introduced in the theme restaurants, like Friday's," says
Aramark's Kloppenburg. "Then they came to the ballparks."
Things would never be the same. Before the decade was out, the
door was thrown open to other arrivistes, including Dove Bars,
Dunkin' Donuts and Pizza Hut. Buy me some peanuts and Cracker
Jack? "With Cracker Jack, you find young kids don't enjoy it
much," says Thompson. "They have gone to the Crunch 'n Munch."
In what may be a final act of desperation, some Cracker Jack
boxes carry a banner that says FAT FREE, the '90s equivalent of
A PRIZE IN EVERY PACKAGE.
According to Sportservice, the number of women attending major
league games has tripled, to more than 35%, in the past 10
years, expediting an explosion of light ballpark food, such as
salads, pasta and Fat Free Cracker Jack. The age and affluence
of baseball fans--most customers at Camden Yards are between 31
and 40 years old, with an annual income of at least
$50,000--have also pushed the trend toward yuppier fare, such as
boutique beers. 3Com Park serves 20 bottled brands at one stand
alone, including Oregon Berry Brew, which tastes like cherry
Robitussin but doesn't provide the pleasant buzz you get from
the cough syrup.
In addition most stadiums serve some sort of regional cuisine:
Cuban sandwiches in Miami, cheese coneys in Cincinnati, clam
chowder in Boston, barbecued brisket in Texas, indigenous
seafood in Denver and Maryland crab cakes in Baltimore.
Crab cakes were on the menu in Orioles owner Peter Angelos's
luxury box at Camden Yards on April 2 when President Clinton
threw out the first pitch to open the season. So were fresh
fruits, crudites and other foods so extraordinary at a ballpark
that the collective spread impressed even the President's jaded
entourage. "They were saying they'd never seen anything like
it," recalls Michelle Milani, the luxury box attendant that
"Uh, Michelle?" asked the President, surveying the spread as the
game got under way. "Can I just have...nachos?" A platter was
summoned, and Clinton inhaled it as if he were a Hoover upright.
"And he had some shelled peanuts," says Milani.
Adds Zachary Henderson, the stadium's executive sous-chef: "I
believe he also had a shrimp cocktail...."
Says Milani, "And hot dogs...."
Well, you get the idea.
Baltimore is the city that gave us Babe Ruth, who once ate a
dozen hot dogs between games of a doubleheader. In terms of
local legend, Babe begat Boog, whose favorite ballpark food is
barbecue. Hang around him long enough and you learn, barbecue is
not just a verb. Barbecue is not just a noun. "Barbecue," says
Boog, "is an attitude."
Back when the Minnesota Twins played their home games at
Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, Boog often didn't get out
of the parking lot. "I used to leave that park after a weekend
day game and never make it to the hotel," he says. "Those people
could tailgate. You'd sit down, have a couple of beers, the
grill is going, and the next thing you know, they're saying,
'Hey, it's late, you might as well stay here.'" And Boog would
crash in his newfound friends' Winnebago, a mobile home away
Boog's has always been a barbecue state of mind. In Baltimore he
couldn't wait to return home after Sunday afternoon games and
"fire up the barbecue." This was easy to do because he lived in
a row house behind Memorial Stadium, where the Orioles played in
those days. "Hell, I'd grill after night games," he says. "Fire
it up at 11 o'clock, smoke is pouring in the neighbors' windows,
their heads are popping out, and they're yelling, 'We know you
don't have to work in the morning, but the rest of us do.'
"Hell," Boog replied, "if I had to work in the morning, I
wouldn't be out here."
Freed of the burdens of ballplaying after 17 years in the big
leagues, Boog now practices the full barbecue lifestyle,
drinking beer professionally as a pitchman for Miller and
overseeing Boog's barbecue stand beyond the rightfield bleachers
at Camden Yards. The stand grosses $2 million a year, and so
popular is its proprietor that Orioles manager Davey Johnson
once told him, "You could sell these people a dog s--- sandwich,
they'd buy it."
But Boog knows better than that. What draws the crowds to his
stand is the barbecue attitude. "It's a smile," he says. "It's
the smell." It's the secret sauce, and the sun, and a story or a
signature from Boog himself. It's the sound of baseball beyond
the bleacher wall behind Boog, who has 100 beer-buzzed patrons
in his line and three Weber grills cooking up 1,500 pounds of
beef, pork and turkey a night and sending smoke to the blue
Fans call his name with an easy familiarity. They're not booing,
they're Booging. At this moment he looks more than enormous. He
looks enormously content. Boog Powell and all those around him
are feeling very barbecue indeed.