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.