"Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack"
Well, baseball has ended for the season in Boston, not with a bang, but a whimper.
Perhaps because the Olde Towne Team had brought home 2 World Series titles since 2004, the sting of dropping out of the playoffs so early is not quite what it was in by-gone times.
I wasn't at the final, dispiriting game - I listened on the radio - but if I had been at Fenway Park, I would have I bought me some Cracker Jack.
Although it now comes in a bag, rather than a box; and although there seem to be fewer peanuts than there used to be; not to mention that the prizes are a whole lot cheesier than once they were, the fundamental Cracker Jack product has changed very little since I was a kid.
I can't say that I ate tons of Cracker Jack as a child, but I did get an occasional box. The prize was a, of course, a major lure. Sometimes it was even an object, a near toy, as excellent as a little plastic yo-yo with sewing thread for a string. Of course, the yo-yo was neither heavy nor balanced enough to do much yo-ing. Still, it was a swell prize. As were the charms, teensy-weensy little books, and the other junk that you might "win." (These days, the prize always seems to be a wash-off tattoo.)
I also loved the fact that, when we were in Chicago on vacation to visit my mother's family, we passed by the Cracker Jack factory on the way to see the Dineens, my Aunt Mary and Uncle Ted, who lived with their five kids on the South Side of Chicago. The Cracker Jack factory was, I believe, near Midway Airport, on the right side of the road. (I'm trying to recall here why the Dineens - North Siders by birth - ended up on the far South Side of Chicago. My Uncle Ted worked for the Babbitt Company, makers of Babo Cleansing Powder, which may have been located on the South Side. Or perhaps they lived there because it was an inconvenient enough distance from my grandmother that she couldn't make her meddlesome way to their house morning, noon, and night. As my Uncle Ted once told my father, "you live the exact correct distance from Grandma." That would be 1000 miles.)
Most of my Cracker Jack purchases since childhood have been at the ballpark, where I always buy a package, well in advance of the seventh inning stretch, when we sing the national anthem of Cracker Jack and baseball, "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." (By the way, do they really need to put the words to this song, and the "Star Spangled Banner", on the big screen for us all to follow along with. Who doesn't know the words?) As kids, however, we were a buy-me-some-peanuts family - always purchased from a vendor before we got into the ballpark, because they were cheaper.
I do recall buying Cracker Jacks as a young adult, and being disappointed by the scarcity of peanuts.
I wrote a complaint letter and - those were the days - they sent me back a carton full of large-sized boxes of Cracker Jack. (At about the same time, I wrote to the Tootsie Roll people about not enough Tootsie in the Tootsie Roll Pops, and was rewarded for my troubles with a giant bag of Tootsie Pops. When I worked at NaviSite, Ron - who kept the area candy jar stocked - always made sure that there were Tootsie Pops for me.)
Anyway, me and Cracker Jack - we go back a long way. So I was interested to see an article in yesterday's Times on the subject.
For all its household word-ness, Cracker Jack - and, in reading the article, I realized that I have spent a lifetime mistakenly referring to this marvelous little snack food as Cracker Jacks (never again!) - is actually pretty small potatoes when it comes to sales. The estimate - or, rather, ball park figure - for the year ending September 6th was $17.6M, which puts it about $5M below the estimates for Crunch 'n Munch, a supposedly similar product that I'm not all that familiar with. (A few years back, the Yankees tried to pull a switcheroo, ridding their concessions of Cracker Jack and brining in Crunch 'n Munch. Yankee fans, not normally a discerning lot, accepted no substitute and successfully demanded the return of Cracker Jack. (Can you imagine? 'Buy me some peanuts and Crunch 'n Munch. I don't care if I heave up my lunch.' Talk about tin ear!))
Cracker Jack sales are mostly thanks to ball park sales. All 30 Major League Baseball teams sell them, where they compete with a broader range of food choices than existed when I first sat in the bleachers. In Philadelphia, you can get cheese steak, in San Diego you can get a fish taco, and in Boston you can buy chowder. Which I would never do, unless I was sitting in the stands in 50 degree whether, something I try to avoid.
The most novel of ball park food stuffs is the Rocky Mountain oysters (bull testicles) sold in Denver. The article was silent on how many bull testicles are sold during a season - and I wonder, do you buy them one at a time, or in a bunch, like fried clams - but they do mention that a paltry 240 packages of Cracker Jack is the average game day sales figure. (Less than 1/4 of the amount they sell in Boston, which, the article notes, has a far longer baseball tradition.)
In Philadelphia, another olden team in an olden baseball city, they also sell a lot of Cracker Jack. There, the ball park food maven suggests that Cracker Jack is an "impulse buy." Maybe in Philadelphia, but in Boston I make my purchase with full purpose and intent.
“It does still have relevance,” said Kevin Haggerty, who oversees concessions at Boston’s Fenway Park, where more than 1,000 bags (no longer boxes) of Cracker Jack are sold in a typical game. “It’s part of the ballpark experience. It is still a good snack. It sells well. It holds its place in the sales mix. And it’s in the song.”
Good to see that, in Boston, Cracker Jack is still "relevant." (If there's one thing I like and admire in a snack, it's relevance. Devil Dog: relevant! Hostess Snoball: irrelevant!)
Cracker Jack do not go for a song, however.
I can't remember whether the CJ of my childhood was a nickel or a dime a box, but I think they go for $3.75 at Fenway. Probably more next year, given that the Red Sox will need to spend a few bucks to get a Big Bat for the team.
Until then, I will not likely give Cracker Jack much of a thought.
But come game day, when I take myself out to the ball game, I will be buying my Cracker Jack, sifting through the caramel corn, searching for the peanuts at the bottom. And hoping against hope that the prize is something good.