When you think baseball you think summer, family, peanuts and Cracker Jacks, and the most iconic association of all – a hot dog. I have attended countless ballgames in Chicago, Milwaukee, Minnesota, St Louis, LA, Cleveland, Philadelphia, and New York and have had a dog at each stop.
This upcoming baseball season, stadiums will serve approximately 26 million hot dogs during innings. With ballparks incorporating more and more exotic menus, the hot dog is far and away the king of the ballgame cuisine. The hamburger is considered America’s most popular food, but the hot dog destroys the burger, pizza, or nachos when it comes to stadium food.
Have you ever stopped to wonder why the hot dog has become synonymous with our national pastime? The answer is a bit of folklore, and controversial.
In pre-1900 Europe, the hot dog was a convenient street food. Inexpensive, able to top them to your liking, and easy to handle, the hot dog was a great food for those on the move. One of two European immigrants is responsible for introducing baseball to the casing filled pork sausage. One such story belongs to German-immigrant, Chris Von der Ahe.
Von der Ahe came to the US as a teenager in the 1870’s. He picked up a grocery clerk job in St Louis, saved a little bit of money and opened a little pub. In 1881 he was asked by the St. Louis Base Ball Association to find 200 people to invest in a new team in St Louis. Realizing the opportunity Von der Ahe handed over a check for $1,800 of his own money buying 180 shares.
Mad the majority owner of the St Louis Browns (which would become the Cardinals), Chris helped build Sportsman’s Park. The Park was coined as the “Cooney Island of the West.” With water slides and a carnival-like feel, it is around this time in the late 1890’s where Von der Ahe began to sell breaded sausages around the ballpark.
The other folklore is from another European-immigrant, Harry M. Stevens.
Stevens seems to have quite the background in pork casing sausages, baseball, and inventions. Which may be why many attribute the hot dog and baseball’s union to him.
Upon coming to America by way of Derby, England, Stevens immediately latched onto the American Pastime. He earned his way into the game by creating baseball’s first universally used scorecard. By 1900 Stevens had earned a contract to supply refreshments to several teams, with ice cream being his main focus.
One cool April game in 1901, Stevens decided to try selling German sausages known as ‘dachshund sausages.’ The stadium ran out of the wax paper they sold the sausages on, so Stevens grabbed some bread and gave them a bun. Walla, the American hot dog was born.
In either Von der Ahe or Stevens case, the hot dog became the most popular stadium food in baseball. Speaking of, perhaps the bigger argument in Chicago is, ‘who makes the best hot dog?’ Everyone has their spot and I’m going to jump into Superdawg for my favorite hot dog now. Where is your favorite dog spot?