If, when I die one day, I am remembered as “the guy who always provided play-by-play, analysis and corny puns about the Progressive Field Hot Dog Derby,” I’ll have lived a pretty successful life. Hopefully someone’s eulogy at my funeral will read: “He died doing what he loved — watching three hot dogs wobble around the field at the ballpark while swinging objects at each other as thousands of fans scream for their favorite condiments. I’m also pretty sure he had a fresh-baked chocolate chip cookie in his hand and another one in his mouth.”
Look, I enjoy providing coverage of the Indians and Major League Baseball. To be able to do such for a living is akin to living the dream. But nothing is more rewarding than offering insight about the Hot Dog Derby, the most unpredictable, cutthroat competition that exists today.
That being said, the 2011 campaign left me unsatisfied. I suppose you could say I’m hungry for more competition this season. Ketchup choked away a sizable September lead in the standings, with a nagging sprained ankle partially to blame. The injury flared up at the worst times for the lycopene-infused warrior, costing him two races he had in the bag in the final week of the schedule. (Ketchup also didn’t help himself when, one day, he became so enamored by Onion’s physical appeal, that he graciously allowed his female counterpart to cross the finish line before him, despite a clear advantage to the yellow tape). That allowed Mustard and Onion to inch their way closer, and after the final home game of the regular season, the three wieners were tied with 27 wins apiece. They say a tie is like “kissing your sister.” But a three-way tie in the most heralded derby on the planet? That’s like an intense makeout session with your pet. Sorry for the picture I just put in your head.
As the 2011 Hot Dog Derby season unfolded, I started to grow suspicious of how the hot dogs operated. Each contestant had certain idiosyncrasies that reappeared every so often. I started prying information out of several sources close to the hot dogs.
I learned that this is no ordinary race completed by mere happenstance. No, there is an entire rulebook each hot dog must follow.
I have, to this point — just wait until I’m back at Progressive Field on a regular basis starting next week — been unsuccessful in my attempt to hold this rulebook in my hands and skim through what I imagine are thousands of pages, chronicling memorable, past Hot Dog Derbies and detailing every procedure and protocol each bunned bandit must adhere to.
Here is what I know:
- Ketchup is the only hot dog permitted to cut across the infield. He does this pretty often, but Slider is typically waiting for him on the other side of the first baseline. Whether the furry mascot can club him with some item at his disposal or tackle him to the ground usually determines the outcome of the race, as Ketchup always grabs a lengthy lead when he takes his shortcut.
- Slider has free reign. He’s like the guest referee in a WWE match, who always has a motive that will factor into the final decision. Ketchup is often his main nemesis and Slider doesn’t appreciate cheating, so it’s typically Mr. Tomato Head who ends up feeling Slider’s wrath.
- Anything goes. The hot dogs are given general, vague instruction, but most of the time, the gimmicks displayed during the race are concocted by the participants.
The hype and buzz surrounding the 2012 campaign cannot be measured or explained. But, now that you have all the background you could ever need about a silly race between three hot dogs representing varying condiments that takes place in the middle of the fifth inning at every Cleveland Indians home game, here is an all-encompassing preview of the season ahead. Hey, this is serious stuff. Oh, and for all the compulsive gamblers out there, you can reassess how far your life has fallen another time — I included plenty of odds and over/unders.
After a video montage showing the hot dogs running/jumping/flying in helicopters all over downtown Cleveland, the three contestants enter from the left field corner and race down the baseline in foul territory, behind home plate, then to the finish line near the end of the visitor’s dugout in foul territory by first base. Awkwardness often ensues when an opposing hitter is warming up in the on-deck circle as the hot dogs sprint by. I recall A.J. Pierzynski and Coco Crisp being particularly perturbed by being bumped into.
- There’s more on the line this season. On Family Feud, the families always reach the round where the points are tripled before someone wins. But when the points are tripled, it makes all previous rounds inconsequential because the winner of the tripled-points round always advances to Fast Money. That’s what this season’s Hot Dog Derby is like. After a three-way tie atop the standings last year, the hot dogs are basically playing for two seasons worth of bragging rights.
- Could playoffs factor into the equation? I have yet to get a clear-cut answer from my sources on how postseason play by the Indians would affect the Derby. It’s safe to assume the ballpark would hold races during home playoff games, but would they count as regular season races? Had the Indians reached the playoffs last year, it could’ve prevented the frustrating three-way tie. With a second Wild Card berth now in play, the Tribe’s playoff chances are greater. That could become an X-factor should we enter the dog days of summer with a logjam atop the Derby standings.
- It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Well, the race is technically a sprint, but you know the old adage. Ketchup squandered a giant lead in the standings last year. Each race is just as important as the next.
- What role will health play? Six months should be plenty of time for Ketchup’s sprained ankle to have healed. The better question is if his bruised ego has recovered.
Over/Under win totals (remember, it’s an 81-race season):
Let’s be honest, if Ketchup could maintain his focus and stay healthy, he’d be the favorite to win every race. But every premier athlete has had distractions or flaws: LeBron James struggles in the clutch. Brett Favre struggled with committing to retirement. Ketchup struggles with fawning over Onion’s beauty, cheating and prematurely relishing the moment before crossing the finish line.
Mustard is often the third wheel among the hot dogs. The other two often play up the theatrics — Onion with her purse, Ketchup with his arrogance — and Mustard is sometimes there to steal the victory. Nothing he does will wow the crowd, but he’s consistent, focused and therefore will always remain a threat to take home the title. He’s opportunistic and smart, as evidenced by his nerdy, Fozzy-bear-like spinner thing on his hat.
She’s a sly one. It’s no coincidence when she deviously bats her eyelashes at Ketchup, or appears helpless when she falls down. Chivalry lives on in Hot Dog Derbyland, and Ketchup and Mustard are always there to help poor, little Onion. But she uses it to her advantage, and that’s how she won 27 races last year. Oh, and having a weapon at her disposal doesn’t hurt, either. The other competitors have nightmares of being slugged in the face or buns with her purse. What she lacks in athletic ability, she makes up for with shrewd, yet conniving, strategy.
5-to-1: A fan, who has ran up quite the tab on ballpark beer, jumps the railings and unofficially enters his/her self into a Hot Dog Derby at some point this season.
7-to-2: An angry opponent channels his inner Randall Simon and interrupts a race while trying to warm up (the serious tone by the news anchors in that clip as they refer to the sausages makes that video hilarious)
8-to-1: Reports surface that two of the hot dogs are engaged in an off-the-field relationship
- 1-to-1: Ketchup and Onion are the two hot dogs
- 3-to-1: Mustard and Onion are the two hot dogs
- 25-to-1: Ketchup and Mustard are the two hot dogs
50-to-1: Ketchup challenges Ezequiel Carrera to a race; Carrera accepts and the hot dog wins
4-to-1: Ketchup challenges Albert Belle to a race; Belle accepts and the hot dog wins
2-to-1: Ketchup challenges Albert Belle to a race; Belle accepts, then clubs the hot dog with a bat and wins
1-to-10: Someone asks me when Relish or Chili will get the Minor League call-up.
It’s too hard to pick against Ketchup, who clearly lies head and shoulders above the other two hot dogs, talent-wise. I’ll say Ketchup wins 29 races, Onion wins 28 and Mustard 24, with Mustard spoiling Onion’s shot at a first-place tie by winning the last race of the season.
*The Indians open the season at 3:05 p.m. ET on Thursday, April 5 at Progressive Field against the Toronto Blue Jays
Follow me on Twitter: @ZackMeisel