BY DENNIS RICHARDSON
Feb. 25, 2021
ORLANDO, FL – Recently, a friend who is an avid Texas Rangers’ baseball fan emailed me, excited about the 2021 season and the possibility of fans once again being able to attend Major League Baseball games after last year’s pandemic-truncated, no-fans-allowed season.
The email included a photo showing him holding something called the “Boomstick” before a Rangers game, at Globe Life Field in Arlington, TX, in 2018.
The Boomstick is an artery-clogging exercise in gluttony: a two-foot-long hot dog, topped with chili, cheese, grilled onions, and jalapenos. It weighs 3 pounds, and checks in at over 2,700 calories. According to the Rangers, it has been a fan favorite ever since it was introduced in 2012.
He chose that over an equally gluttonous “M.V.T.” (Most Valuable Tamale): a two-foot-long hot dog hidden inside a tamale, and topped with sour cream, nacho cheese, and chili.
Apparently, Texas’ penchant for doing things in a big way also extends to the food served at ballparks.
As we prepare for the upcoming season and the hope that fans once again will be able to attend games, we pay tribute to the top dog on ballpark menus across America: the humble hot dog, derided by nutritionists and dietitians, yet loved by baseball fans everywhere.
Having a hot dog at a game is just part of being a baseball fan, whether you are at Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park, Wrigley Field, Busch Stadium, Coors Field, or Dodger Stadium. There’s just something about having a hot dog at a ballpark. I’ve eaten hot dogs while watching games at home, but they simply do not taste as good.
The hot dog is to baseball what buttered popcorn is to movies; what hot chocolate is to a day of sledding or snowball fights; and what watermelon is to a Fourth of July picnic. It’s one of those combinations that just naturally seem to work. It’s two American icons – baseball and hot dogs – coming together.
An American auto manufacturer even based an entire ad campaign in the mid-1970s on baseball and hot dogs, with its iconic jingle -- “Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet, they go together in the good ol’ USA”.
In fact, one of my earliest memories of attending an MLB game is the sound of a vendor, as he walked up and down the aisles in the stands, yelling, “Red Hots. Red Hots. Get your Red Hots here.”
Odd, I thought, that someone would want to eat red peppers. But, when my father explained that “red hot” is another name for a hot dog, I wanted one.
Still the Fans’ Favorite
While the fare at ballparks all across America these days has begun to rival the variety at fine restaurants – especially if you are in a stadium’s all-inclusive, “club level” seating -- the hot dog always will be the fan favorite at a baseball game.
People may sing “buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jacks” when belting out Take Me Out to the Ballgame during the seventh-inning stretch, but it’s the hot dog (or frank, or frankfurter, or wiener, or red hot – whichever term you prefer) they want.
“Despite growing options at concessions, fans keep coming back for their old favorite,” reports the National Hot Dog & Sausage Council (NHDSC).“There is a long history between baseball and hot dogs, dating back to the late 1890s. It is something that has become ingrained in us as part of our culture. Growing up, we enjoyed having a hot dog at a baseball game.
“The pairing of baseball and hot dogs is Americana. It gives guests a sense of nostalgia to when they were a kid and first came to the ballpark. It is the quintessential ballpark fare.”
According to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council (NHDSC), an estimated 19 million hot dogs and 4.6 million sausages were consumed at ballparks during the 2019 MLB season.
If laid end to end, the council says, the combined hot dog and sausage total would stretch across the continental United States, from Safeco Field in Seattle to Sun Trust Park in Atlanta. The hot dogs alone would reach as high as 5,332 One World Trade Centers, the tallest building in the western hemisphere.
Two reasons why hot dogs are such hits at ballgames: they are inexpensive and easily customizable.
According to statista.com, the average price of a ballpark hot dog in 2019 was $5.01. It ranged from $1.50 at Baltimore’s Camden Yards to $6.50 at Citi Field, home of the New York Mets. (The Boomstick at Globe Life Field, though, set my friend back about $27.)
Hot Dogs, Pizza, and Doughnuts
There are all kinds of ways to dress up a hot dog. From the conventional – mustard, onion, pickle relish, mayonnaise, sauerkraut, cheese, chili, jalapenos – to the unconventional.
Among the more unconventional toppings: kimchi (a Korean-style cabbage), Fritos, Fruit Loops, pulled pork, and candy. Amazingly, one can even top a hot dog with cotton candy, put a frankfurter inside a doughnut bun, or have it top a pizza.
During the 2015 playoffs, the Texas Rangers served a Sweet Spot Cotton Candy Dog, described as “an all-beef hot dog with cotton candy-infused mustard” and topped with cotton candy. And, the Detroit Tigers’ Erie (PA) Double-A minor league team has served a hot dog with a cotton candy bun, topped with Nerds candy.
A few years ago, the Wilmington (Del.) Blue Rocks minor-league baseball team introduced the Krispy Kreme Doughnut Dog. As its names suggests, a glazed doughnut bun wraps around a hot dog topped with bacon and raspberry jelly.
For a limited time in 2016, the Cubs honored two of the Windy City’s culinary legends – the Chicago-style pizza and the Chicago Dog -- by combining them into a Chicago-Style Hot Dog Deep Dish Pizza. This personal-size, deep-dish cheese pizza was covered with hot dogs, and the fixings of a Chicago-style dog: yellow mustard, chopped white onions, sweet pickle relish, a dill pickle spear, tomato slices, celery salt, and pickled sport peppers.
So, apparently, one can put just about anything on a hot dog – except, it seems, ketchup. To some, ketchup on a frankfurter is blasphemy. According to the NHDSC, nobody over age 18 should put the tomato-based condiment on a hot dog.
In the 1983 movie, Sudden Impact, Clint Eastwood, playing the role of detective Dirty Harry, said, “Nobody, I mean nobody, puts ketchup on a hot dog.”
I disagree. So, it’s OK to put cotton candy or Fruit Loops on a hot dog, but ketchup is some sort of faux pas? Curious.
The Dodger Dog is Alpha Dog
Of all the hot dogs served at ballparks around the country, the alpha dog in this pack clearly is the Dodger Dog. After all, how many hot dogs have had their own bobblehead doll; and a two-page spread in the official team history alongside the likes of greats such as Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Pee Wee Reese, Sandy Koufax, and Don Drysdale?
It is estimated that 3 million Dodger Dogs were consumed during the 2019 season at Dodger Stadium, the most at any MLB ballpark. According to the NHDSC, that’s enough to round the bases at the Los Angeles stadium 5,952 times.
Thomas Arthur, the first concessions manager at Dodger Stadium, introduced the Dodger Dog to L.A. fans in 1962. He originally called it a “foot long dog.” When people complained about the name because the dog measured only 10 inches, Arthur changed the name to “Dodger Dog.”
It has been a staple at games since, available steamed or grilled. Fans also can order a spicier version of the Dodger Dog: the Doyer Dog. It features chili, nacho cheese, chopped tomatoes, onions, and jalapenos.
The Origin of Franks and Ballparks
While there are differing stories about how hot dogs came to be associated with baseball, most cite Chris Von de Ahe as the person most responsible.
As the story goes, in the 1890s the owner of the St. Louis Browns began peddling the sausages at his ballpark as a way for fans to soak up the beer he sold.
The term “hot dog” was introduced in 1902, according to a 2014 story on mlb.com by writer Mark Newman. He wrote that concessionaire Harry Stevens was having a difficult time selling cold food on a chilly April day at New York’s Polo Grounds. So, Stevens directed his salesmen to go out and buy a large quantity of “dachshund sausages” and rolls. The ballpark vendors, carrying portable hot-water tanks, then enticed customers by yelling, “Get your dachshund sausages while they’re red hot!”
A newspaper cartoonist illustrated the scene, with a dachshund sausage inside a bun, adding a “get your hot dogs” caption underneath. “Hot dog” being easier to pronounce and spell than “dachshund”, the name stuck.
The Babe and the Hot Dog
Babe Ruth would have loved Joey Chestnut, who last July 4th ate a record 75 hot dogs (with buns) in 10 minutes during the annual Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest.
Legend has it that Ruth once consumed a dozen hot dogs and eight sodas between games of a doubleheader; and ate seven hot dogs before every game because he considered it good luck.
While the Yankees’ Hall of Fame slugger ate his frankfurters before – or between – games, former Detroit Tigers’ outfielder Gates Brown in 1968 once consumed his during a game -- and paid the price.
As mlb.com writer Michael Clair reported in a 2018 story, on a day when Brown was not in the starting lineup, the Tigers’ outfielder decided at some point to get something to eat from the clubhouse. After returning to the bench with a couple frankfurters loaded with mustard, Brown unexpectedly was called by his manager to pinch hit. Not wanting to be seen eating, Brown stuffed the hot dogs inside his uniform shirt and went up to the plate.
This was likely the one time that Brown didn’t want to get a hit – but he did. After hitting a ball into the gap, Brown was forced to slide head first into second base, and in the process soiled his uniform with “squashed meat” and mustard.
“The fielders took one look at me, turned their backs and damned near busted a gut laughing,” Brown recalled in the article. “My teammates in the dugout went crazy.”
Brown was fined $100; making them two very expensive hot dogs.
The late Humphrey Bogart once said that “a hot dog at the ballgame beats roast beef at the Ritz.” I’ve never been to the Ritz, but for me it’s hard to beat a hot dog at a baseball game.
And, not a “Boomstick” or some other inventive combination. Just give me a humble, ordinary hot dog covered with pickle relish, a little diced onion – and, some ketchup. Because convention be damned; sometimes you just have to take a stand. I choose to do so with ketchup.
Dennis Richardson is a writer/editor with Words Matter. He has an extensive background as a reporter, copy editor, sportswriter, sports copy editor, and Senior Special Sections Writer with newspapers in Missouri and Florida. He lives outside of Orlando, FL.