Baseball Judgments

Baseball Judgments |
A history of food at the ballpark


By Roger Weber


From the inception of the ballpark eating and drinking were tied to baseball. At the first enclosed ballpark in Brooklyn a saloon sat in one of the outfield corners. Beer was the first consumable to appear in a ballpark. Baseball was popular with the Germans in the Midwest who would drink beer freely during games and enjoy other concoctions.


The most famous edible creation ever to appear at ballparks is the hot dog. The hot dog is essentially just a "dash on the doxen" sausage as they were sometimes called and a Vienna roll. So it is very plausible that hot dogs were consumed regularly before they ever entered the ballpark. Some claim hot dogs first appeared at baseball games as early as the 1870s and '80s. But a more famous legend says they didn't appear until 1905 when Harry M. Stevens brought them to an early season game in New York.


Stevens was an immigrant who came to the United States in the 1870s. He worked as a minister in Columbus, Ohio and was also a part time bookseller. A few businessmen hired him to sell scorecards at Ohio baseball games and he was soon known as the "scorecard man." Stevens moved to New York and his business expanded from scorecards to concessions. One day when ice cream wasn't selling well because of cold temperatures Stevens sent some of his employees to get some sausages and Vienna rolls. He sold the combination as "red hots" and the sold well enough that Stevens continued selling them and later expanded his menu. A cartoonist who couldn't spell the official name of the sausages shortened the name to "hot dog" in 1910 and hot dogs have been in baseball ever since.


But the validity of the story is questionable. In 1904, a year before Stevens supposedly invented the creation a cartoonist drew a picture of one at the World's Fair in St. Louis. And according to some secondhand reports, some students at Yale College claimed to have enjoyed the sausages and rolls as early as 1895.


It is likely that the hot dog originated well before Stevens brought it to baseball in New York because it is not a complex item and would have made a reasonable concoction for German immigrants. After all, the hot dog is filling, warm and salty and goes well with beer. These combined tastes may also explain how peanuts made their way into the baseball scene.


Over the years, menus expanded. At Shibe Park in Philadelphia concessions included prime rib of beef, pork loin with applesauce, lamb stew, vegetable soup, mashed potatoes, hot beef sandwiches, corn and beans. And none of this cost more than $.60.


Beer continued to be an integral part of baseball. But it incited rowdiness among fans. At some parks beer was banned on ladies' days. During prohibition beer was obviously banned from ballparks. But it returned to the pleasure of many fans by the 1930s. In June of 1974 Cleveland held 10-cent beer night at the stadium. The Indians and the Rangers, the team they faced on the ill-fated night, had a bench clearing brawl a week earlier at Texas but the Indians' organization still opted to hold the promotion to draw more people to the park. 25,000 came out to watch the Indians come back from a 5-1 deficit to tie the game in the ninth.


Although several streakers crossed the field earlier in the game real trouble didn't start until the ninth inning. Fans stole the glove and cap of Texas outfielder Jeff Burroughs, and when teammates came to the irate Burroughs' aid fans charged the field. Fans still in the stands started throwing folding chairs and hit several players and one of the umpires. Cleveland was forced to forfeit the game, the first forfeit in the Major Leagues since fans in Washington D.C. literally started tearing RFK stadium apart at its last game in 1971.


Promotions like 10-cent beer night have alerted team owners and baseball officials to the danger of alcohol at baseball games. Now rules are in effect for when vendors must stop selling alcohol. Plus, new exorbitant beer prices have eased overall beer consumption.


But baseball has long been a family game. From the famous line "Say it ain't so Joe" during the Black Sox scandal to the Little League World Series to team community funds and knothole sections baseball has long been viewed as a kids' game. In the 19-teens the St. Louis Cardinals became the first major league team to offer needy boys and girls free bleacher seats. The practice is fairly common now. Baseball is tied closely to the Boys and Girls Clubs of America.


As a kid-friendly game, baseball parks have long sold soft drinks as well as beer.  Coke for a long time dominated professional sports but by 1998 Pepsi was the official soft drink at eight major league ballparks. (5) Soft drink advertisements are at some parks very prominent. The 80-foot Coca Cola bottle slide in San Francisco may be most prominent but many baseball fans still think of the replica Coke bottles on the light towers at Fenway Park as the backdrop for Mark McGwire's once-record 13 home runs in the first round of the 1999 Home Run Derby.


Other ballpark specialties like cracker jacks and peanuts have waned in popularity but still exist at most parks. New concessions like soft pretzels and French fries have gained popularity during the retro ballpark age.


Most ballparks have their own regional specialties and every fan has a different opinion of which parks have the best food. At Camden Yards in Baltimore some stands sell crab cakes, albeit for high prices, and the right field concourse is full of unique concession stands. Wrigley Field has its own specialties even if nothing is too unique. The Italian beef isn't sold anywhere else. In Cincinnati Reds' fans enjoy cheese coneys loaded with Cincinnati chili, a concoction of several different ingredients including chili, chocolate and cinnamon and heaping with shredded cheese.


Rocky mountain oysters, a more appetizing name than their actual contents- bull testicles- are sold at Coors Field in Denver along with a large assortment of beer, much of which is brewed in house. In Miami, a city with a large Hispanic population, vendors at Dolphins Stadium sell arepas, or a Venezuelan corn cake, kind of like a hamburger. In Kansas City, the popular favorite is barbequed beef. Locals claim their version is the best in the country.


PNC Park offers the Primati Brothers sandwich, a huge Italian sandwich that doesn't include just bread and meat but also fries and virtually anything else you want between the bread. San Diego baseball cuisine includes fish tacos while up Route 1 in San Francisco the smell of garlic fries and Polish sausage engulfs the stadium.


Cleveland doesn't have one signature food. So when Jacobs Field opened concessions planners didn't try to create one item they would push. In fact, they did the opposite. Jacobs offers over 80 concessions items and is well known for its brown mustard. A concession stand appears at almost every open spot around the stadium.


Perhaps the best concessions scene is in Milwaukee, though. County Stadium, whose tenure as home of the Brewers ended in 2000, was well known for the tailgating that went on in the parking lots outside the stadium. New Miller Park uses the same parking lots and the same tailgating is prevalent at every home game.


Milwaukee is also well known for its beer and sausages. The official Milwaukee brat is dipped in secret sauce and served on a crusty bun. While it may be helpful at bringing on a heart attack, the brat is very popular. But it isn't the only variation of the hot dog that exists.


Most baseball fans have heard about the Dodger Dog and the Fenway frank. The Dodger dogs are a full foot long and served with relish and mustard. The Fenway franks are served on "New England buns," almost like serving hot dogs on thick slices of white bread. Hot dogs all over the country differ in their beef/pork content, the buns they are served on and often most noticeably, their price.


For years Reds' owner Marge Schott insisted the Reds sell hot dogs for just $1. By 2006 they were nearly $4 and in some other cities now cost even more. Bottled water is sometimes over $4 and beer in St. Louis costs $9.50. Luckily most parks allow fans to bring some types of food into the park.


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