Crackerjack Surprises by Bob Ryan

When some of us were kids, Cracker Jack was a common type of candy. Inside every box came a surprise “prize”. Those surprises usually amused us for a few minutes….and then…it was forgotten or discarded.  That’s about the same spirit of sports surprises…it catches our attention….for a short while…then moves into the graveyard of our memory bank by about Tuesday or Wednesday of the following week! Nonetheless, there were a plethora of “surprises in the sports world in the last week…..

….Anibel Sanchez….who? a 35 year old, 14 year veteran who carries a 108-108 lifetime record….this grizzled vet, ties up the Cards bats like he was Bob Gibson or Sandy Koufax or Greg Maddux. His “fast”ball seldom hit 90mph yet…..Sanchez gives up 1 hit in 7 2/3 innings on Friday night…. Surprise? …more like SHOCK! Listening to the game on the radio as we returned from covering a football game, the announcers were incredulous that Sanchez was performing in this manner. Once again, his control and craftiness in mixing up his pitches on key counts and putting them in absolutely perfect spots. It was a surprise to ALL!

….then the next game, two long-time pitching stalwarts….one past his prime and the other on the cusp of leaving his prime (Wainwright & Scherzer) battled in yet another pitching dual. Between the 2 of them, we’ve seen 342 wins, 4600 inn of Major League pitching, 15 shutouts, 4 saves, 794 games in the MLB, 33 complete games—two true professionals but….could they still do it? Both pitchers were superb….again it wasn’t the over powering fastball….it was the pin-perfect control, the art of pitching….again made enjoyable because EVERY batter mattered and was worked on by the art of the pitching craft. Surprised by their work? Really? These will be 2 HOF pitchers. Monday night may bring us more surprises.

… after years…maybe decades… of pandering to the televised audience and not the actual crowd in attendance, the MLB seems surprised that attendance is down…again…for 6th straight year. We ALL know the answer….MLB is making more money from televised, national games than at the gate. Here are 7 possible reasons for the drop in attendance..1) Length of game…. Years ago… was 1 minute between innings….it’s increased to 2:30 now…why has that time increased…we all know the reason…to satisfy the needs of the televised sponsors.  This time between innings  increases more for post season games… for Joe…or Jane… FAN at the game, it’s probably close to 4 hour day at the ‘ol ballpark before fans (who stay the entire game) start for home.  2) TV coverage is REALLY good…and if it’s a bad game….you just turn it off…you don’t feel obligated to “stay and watch” 3) While the attendance is down, the income generated from the fans is UP. Sooo…does it really matter to the MLB teams where the money is coming from? 4) Some teams “tank”…..grab the TV $$$…bank it…and send out a minor-league level team. These teams still show a profit due to ….yep….TV money. The fans have the opportunity to watch their team compete…for almost a month or so….then…they are outta of it in the standings.  Attendance in these markets lag far behind. One might speculate that some of these markets…after years of bad teams….are NEVER going to build a fan base. 5) Only a few franchises….like StL, Yankees, Boston, Cubs, Dodgers  have generational fans. Tradition keeps the attendance moving down the line. In the vast majority of teams, that generational pass-on doesn’t exist…and…I’m not so sure that it will even continue in the Lou. 6) MLB is doing a very poor job of reaching out “youngsters and young adults—teens or in the 20’s”. Not only is attendance dropping with that segment but how will it attendance be brought back when these current young adults have their own families?  The MLB… especially the Cardinals… seem to think that giving away trinkets … or shirts… bobbleheads… hats… whatever…will lure fans to the game…maybe that’s their “reach out” to the younger generations….but to this point, MLB, in general, doesn’t seem to care about actually taking direct steps to touch the youth….e.g. could teams could return to “teen night”- deeply reduced ticket prices for seats less than 250 feet from home plate for teens; dugout nite when much younger fans  walk thru the dugout prior to game to see their heroes,o autographs that will be sold later…by someone else; let kids or teens (not adults) play those contests shown on the big board during the game;  7) Let’s face it…there are …probably…only 10 of the 30 teams that know….deep down…that they actually have a post-season chance. Another way to raise attendance is to raise hope. Mandate a minimum salary base for EVERY team. Hopefully they’ll bring in some ‘stars”….even if they are overpriced (e.g. Harper, Machado) .. if they do ….it’ll raise hope and interest….at least for awhile.

….One additional area of MLB surprises….I’m surprised that more people  aren’t hurt at the ballpark….I would suggest…1) extend the netting all the way from foul pole to foul pole….fans want souvenirs….leave enough room under the bottom of the netting to squeeze the ball under the netting to kids. 2) Make sure that all bat boys/girls wear helmets with a face mask on it. Remember Encarcion’s career ending with a foul ball hitting him in the face….now, those batboys DO wear helmets but they should wear helmets with  a football facemask to protect their face.

…..on the NCAA-F “surprise” front…..

…a surprise was the ease that Mizzou handled Old Miss 38-27. The Tigers looked much more athletic and stronger in the line. The WR corp looks to be balanced while Roundtree is a power back that each good team needs. While seemingly always in control…there still were missteps…2 missed extra points. (footnote….I coached HS Frosh Football for 12 years….never had 2 missed PAT in an entire season…much less a single game—and I don’t think it was my coaching), on occasion the LB seem to get bottled up inside…. Mississippi….like many others have attempted…is trying to serve 2 masters by platooning QB Matt Corral (can pass & run a little) and John Rhys Plumlee (can really run and pass a little)… seldom…if ever…. Does switching QB on & off during the game result in a win over good teams…maybe over average or weak teams …but not good teams. On a side note, the Tigers played with emotion…that’s good… but… sometimes…after a good play… a bit too much emotion…that’s not good….it sometimes causes lack of concentration on the next play. I also thought that the defense took some poor angles when flying after Plumlee, who would then turn the corner on them for a longer gain. On the bright side…..the Mizzou offensive production has been terrific…the Tigers have NEVER scored less than 30 points in any 2019 game!

….Not a huge surprise….OU’s speed choked off Texas 34-27. The Longhorns did seem to adjust as the game unfolded but the LB, Secondary, WR, D-Line –ALL looked quicker that Texas. OU had the emotion to begin the game…as game unfolded, Texas regained its composure…used an unbalanced line to befuddle the Sooners defense against the run. OU QB Jalen Hurts, the transfer from Bama, seems much more relaxed by this completely up tempo offense…and also maybe because there isn’t any competition for him @ QB J  He’s not looking over his shoulder if he makes a mistake.

…most were not only surprised,,,but shocked… in the biggest upset of the day…. that Georgia (24.5 points favorite in pre-game)  fell to S.Carolina in 2-OT  20-17. S. Carolina’s kicker Parker White split the uprights for a 23 yard FG to win the game.  Georgia’s kicker missed two FG attempts at the end of the 1st & 2nd OT.  But….the real reason… some say….for the loss, was 4 turnovers (3 of them INT). The momentum still seemed to be heavily seated on the Bulldog side of the field when Georgia marched on a 96 yard drive to tie the game with less than 2 minutes remaining in regulation. But…the Gamecocks survived the two missed FG attempts to snatch the win and drop Georgia out of the top 5 and maybe even the top 10.

….no one can be surprised that Antonio Brown is attempting to get back into the NFL. No doubt, he was…maybe still is…a premier receiver. However, Professional teams are reluctant to bring in a player who has experienced so much difficulty with other players and/or other teams…right or wrong…it seems the only chance that he has is  with the Patriots …yet .. it seems as if that bridge was burned a couple weeks ago.

….we began with the Cracker Jack….let’s finish it up with Cracker Jack….W.K. Kellogg was the first to introduce prizes inside Cracker Jack boxes in 1912.  The origination of Cracker Jack has varying interpretations  but most agree it was sold in 1896. It was so popular in the early 20th century that it became part of our national pastime’s favorite song, “Take me out to the Ballgame” with the lyrics , “Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack!” Prizes were included in every box of Cracker Jack beginning in 1912.  At one point, Baseball cards were the prizes. Some lucky person…or people…found the card a T206 Honus Wagner Card. That card sold on April 6, 2013 for $2.1 million in an online auction! Frito-Lay now owns the product.  Thanks for the read! YOUR comments….surprise or not….are always invited.  


  1. Multiple Comments says:

    Good read and info. KG
    I didn’t get to see the Mizzou game but from reading articles that defense played okay without Garrett but hopefully we don’t think Vanderbilt will be pushover!! Last time we were there in Nashville they made this their homecoming game! They also realize after losing to UNLV that they have to win to save their coach’s job!! I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s a close game!! My impression of Kelly Bryant is he’s trying to win the game himself rather than using the other 11 players! I have been to every game except this week and the game against South Carolina when they designed plays for him to run was his best game!! They should win easily but let us not forget Georgia this week! I always like reading your thoughts! Keep them coming!! AC
    ———————————————————————————- I think MLB has mandated that the netting must go from foul pole to foul pole starting next year. Some teams already put that netting in the last part of this season… White Sox might have been one, Atlanta another. One of my former players is the current BB for the Cardinals, Andrew Rettig. Andrew is now attending SLU. Actually one of my kids from Aquinas-Mercy was also a Cardinals BB in high school, Mark Walsh. He’s now a ‘big shot’ with the Cardinals organization, works in the clubhouse. I remember he got to hold on to the Yadi home run ball from the 2006 NLCS to keep it safe. He started as a junior in high school way back in 1993. I remember him bringing Cardinals gear to practices and stories of how he picked up visiting players at the airport, like the time Deon Sanders gave him $100 tip for driving him. And I remember you coaching those freshmen football teams… I am sure we hooked up on the field a few times 🙂 I know we did in basketball freshmen games. JG
    I hope all is well and funny after coaching all those yeas of Freshman football that you didn’t miss 2 PAT’s in a single game like Mizzou did Saturday night. But the kicker did hit the field goals! KL


    Great to see Cards return to Post Season. ( must come “ clean”wasn’t a believer during the season) The Atlanta series featured some good pitching and was back & forth until the magical 10 run 1st inning sealed the deal for the Birds.

    The Nats series may have destiny written all over it. The many years of disappointment for Washington May be coming to an end. The explosive offense & solid pitching have StL in a 2-0 hole. Have to give a shout-out to Adam Wainwright! 2 fine post season performances! If we can’t win it, I’m ok with Washington going to/ winning World Series.

    StL Christmas List:
    1) A dependable/ innings eating starting pitcher;
    2) A lights out relief pitcher. Hicks won’t be a dependable option until July & realistically, 2021. Time to move on from Carlos Martinez
    Gant, Brebbia were over used. Miller was up & down. Gallego, Helsley, Cabbrea,& Webb were dependent go- to guys. ( why has Ponce de Leon been “ buried” since call up??)
    3) The veteran dilemma….Matt Carpenter struggled all season & although showed unselfishness, has become a rally killer & defensive liability.
    Dexter Fowler cannot play CF any longer and although occasional power, the anemic batting average is very alarming! Was he better than ‘18? Yes, but stats were still disturbing in ‘19. Tommy Edmond has earned a shot at everyday duty! Bader: If they are content with him being a late inning defensive move or pinch runner, fine. It’s Randal Grichuk with less power.
    4) Middle Infield: Wong is/ should be Gold Glover! Hitting to all fields. Looks like patience displayed along with everyday play is providing results! DeJong has great power & his defense is much improved! Has to cut down K’s !
    5) YOung player development: Arouzarena, Lane Thomas May be OF options in ‘20. Let’s not suffocate Andrew Kziner’s growth. Move him, and go with Weiters as Yadi back up. Once Yadi is ready to retire it’s then that a young stud is groomed as his replacement ( he learned under Matheny when he was near the end)
    6) FA & BENCH—-Ozuna: Power Yes! Defense awful. If he accepts a 1 yr deal, let’s go again in ‘20, allowing chance to test farm call ups. Bench: Yairo Munoz, Jose Martinez , 4 th outfielder Trade: “ If” a legit power guy is available, get him!! Anthony Rendon??? JP1

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