“Buy me some peanuts and a Tootsie Roll” just didn’t work. Instead, when Jack Norworth wrote the lyrics to “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” in 1908, he called out Cracker Jack. The molasses, peanut, and popcorn snack’s firm association with baseball is “undoubtedly the result” of the song, says Tim Wiles, the research director for the Baseball Hall of Fame and coauthor of Baseball’s Greatest Hit: The Story of Take Me Out to the Ball Game, which is still sung during the seventh-inning stretch at most games.
Wiles tried to get inside Norworth’s head in his book, wondering: “Did Norworth work any back room deals with Cracker Jack so as to include them in the song? We don’t know. We do know that Cracker Jack rhymes with ‘never get back’ and for songwriters, it’s all about what rhymes.”
The earliest evidence of Cracker Jack being sold at a ballgame is in 1896, says Wiles. It was shown in an ad on a scorecard (pictured) for a game hosted by the Atlantic City Base Ball Club against the Cuban Giants. Cracker Jack was first sold at a Major League ballpark in 1907. So it already had a presence at games, and Norworth cemented that by including it in his song.
The confection was first introduced by F. W. Rueckheim in 1893 at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Three years later, Rueckheim’s brother Louis tweaked the recipe, finding a way to keep the molasses-coated popcorn morsels from sticking together. “He showed it to a salesman who exclaimed, ‘That’s crackerjack!’ and that’s where the name comes from,” says Chris Kuechenmeister, director of public relations for Frito-Lay, which now owns Cracker Jack. (At the time, the term crackerjack was used colloquially to mean “something that is exceptionally fine or splendid” or “a person who is exceptionally skillful or expert,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary.) Prizes were added in 1912, and in 1914, the first baseball-themed prizes appeared: baseball cards in each box.
Image courtesy of National Baseball Hall of Fame Library