During the 2014 baseball season, Bennett Jaconstein and his wife traveled to each of the major league stadiums to investigate the variety of food offerings. In January 2015, Bennett published The Joy of Ballpark Food: From Hot Dogs to Haute Cuisine. It is available for sale on Amazon.
Baseball is a game that is identified with food. We even sing about it at every ballpark during the seventh inning stretch: “….buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack…” The famous song was written by Jack Norworth in 1908.
From the early part of the twentieth century until the 1980s, classic baseball fare consisted mostly of hot dogs, ice cream, peanuts, and Cracker Jack. Then ballparks slowly began to sell new items. A proliferation of new food offerings during the 1990s was fueled by the opening of twelve new major league ballparks.
Now, teams around the country sell a variety of exotic food. Some stadiums have gone all out to showcase unique, gourmet-style food. Many parks emphasize regional food as well as having offerings from well-known local restaurants. There are also several ballparks where retired ballplayers are shaping new careers as signature food purveyors.
“The new food era has brought such a wonderful gustatory experience at the ballparks with chef-prepared masterpieces, vegetarian and kosher delights, as well as amped up riffs on the hot dog and sausage,” says Bennett.
The Joy of Ballpark Food: From Hot Dogs to Haute Cuisine begins with the history of the first hot dog at a ball game and concludes with a culinary tour of all 30 major league ballparks.
Excerpt from The Joy of Ballpark Food: From Hot Dogs to Haute Cuisine:
Along with hot dogs and peanuts, Cracker Jack popcorn is one of the early and traditional baseball foods. Although its famous connection with baseball through the song “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” did not occur until 1908, an 1896 scorecard for a game played in Atlantic City, New Jersey, between the Atlantic City Baseball Club and the Cuban Giants contained a Cracker Jack advertisement.
Frederick Rueckheim immigrated to Chicago from Germany in 1871. Frederick and his brother Louis sold popcorn from a cart in the streets of Chicago. Later they added a caramel coating and peanuts to create the popcorn candy which eventually was marketed as Cracker Jack.
It has been variously reported that the Rueckheims distributed their new product at the 1893 Chicago Columbian Exposition. There is no record of the brothers having a stand at the Expo, but it is possible that they hawked their product on foot throughout the fair.
In the nineteenth century “crackerjack” was a slang expression that meant “something very pleasing or excellent.” The story goes that a customer, upon tasting the pop corn concoction, exclaimed “That’s crackerjack!” and the Rueckheims took that as the trade name. The Cracker Jack brand name was registered in 1896.
In 1912 toy surprises were first put into every Cracker Jack box. In 1914 and 1915 a baseball card was placed in each Cracker Jack box. Customers were unhappy because there was less space for the caramel corn, and the baseball card distribution was soon discontinued. However, a 1915 Ty Cobb card from a Cracker Jack box sold in 2005 for $94,709.
Each box of Cracker Jack has a picture of Sailor Jack and his dog Bingo. Sailor Jack was modeled after Robert Rueckheim, an eight-year-old nephew or grandson of Frederick (sources vary). Tragically, Robert died of pneumonia shortly after his image first appeared.
Cracker Jack remained a family business until it was sold to Borden Inc. in 1964. In 1997 ownership of the brand was transferred to Frito-Lay North America, Inc.
During the 1980s the New York Yankees hosted an Old-timers Game which was sponsored by the Cracker Jack brand. As part of the festivities, Cracker Jack was cooked on site for players and officials. According to game promoter Marty Appel, “The scent of hot Cracker Jack was almost indescribably wonderful. I’ll always associate Cracker Jack with baseball, and the smell of hot Cracker Jack with the fun of those old-timers games.”
In 2004 the New York Yankees decided to stop selling Cracker Jack and chose instead to offer another brand of caramel corn called Crunch ‘n Munch. The decision left fans stunned and upset. Several months later, the Yankees corrected their error and brought back Cracker Jack. The Yankees’ chief operating officer, Lonn Trost, gave the reason for the return of Cracker Jack: “The fans have spoken.” Cracker Jack is currently sold at almost all of the major league stadiums.
Much credit for the popularity of Cracker Jack at baseball games can be given to “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” During the seventh inning of every baseball game across the country, fans are reminded of Cracker Jack. Although the Cracker Jack brand owes much of its success to the song, there is no evidence that songwriter Jack Norworth was ever compensated by the Rueckheims. Norworth was simply looking for a rhyme. If “back” did not rhyme with “jack,” who knows what kind of snack baseball fans would be eating today.