Cracker Jack started out in Chicago in 1871. German immigrant Frederick William "Fritz" Rueckheim was a popcorn seller on what is now Federal Street. He coated his popcorn in molasses, and it was a hit. Twenty-five years later, he discovered a system to make the popcorn-molasses mixture in a way that kept the popcorn from becoming a massive glob. Shortly thereafter in 1896, the Cracker Jack tradename was born.
The company stayed independent until the mid-1960s. At that time, Borden Foods and Frito-Lay engaged in a bidding war to acquire the company. While Borden won in the 1960s, Frito-Lay eventually won the war when its parent company PepsiCo bought Cracker Jack in 1997 and folded it into Frito-Lay's corporate portfolio.
Cracker Jack's association with baseball is nearly as long standing as the snack itself. Just 12 years after "Cracker Jack" became a tradename, it was incorporated into the lyrics of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" by lyricist Jack Norworth, a star in vaudeville who apparently was inspired by seeing an advertising sign on the subway in New York for a game at the Polo Grounds.
In the world of baseball cards, Cracker Jack has a similarly lengthy history. One of the most iconic card sets of the 1910s is the E145 set issued in 1914 and 1915. These cards were among the first Cracker Jack prizes, and included players from all three then-existing major leagues, assuming that the Federal League counts as a major league. Thereafter, in 1933, Cracker Jack included a set of 25 pins of popular players of the day as prizes in their boxes.
Sadly, Cracker Jack no longer includes prizes in their boxes. In 2016, Frito-Lay announced that the inserts in the boxes would only contain codes for use in the Cracker Jack app on Android phones. These codes were spun as being just as good as the old days -- as one would expect a marketing person would do. The quote: "The new prize inside allows families to enjoy their favorite baseball moments through a new one-of-a-kind mobile experience, leveraging digital technology to bring the iconic prize inside to life."
I rather doubt that that is the case.
Sheet photos courtesy of Keymancollectibles.com.
These cards were issued in two panels of 8 uncut sheets with a Cracker Jack logo in the middle, as shown above. As the 1982 Baseball Cards Magazine that Night Owl scanned in back in 2013 points out, the cards were issued in conjunction with the 1982 Old-Timers All-Star game that took place at RFK Stadium in Washington, DC. As The Shlabotnik Report pointed out, these cards were obtainable by mailing in proofs-of-purchase from boxes of Cracker Jack.
The set's design puts together familiar design elements from then-recent Topps sets. The Cracker Jack logo is located similarly to where the hats on the 1981 Topps cards were placed. Team names came directly from the 1978 Topps set. Player names are cribbed designwise from the 1979 Topps set. Even the colors on the back appear to be pulled directly from the 1981 Topps set.
That 1982 Old Timer's All-Star game was noteworthy for a couple of reasons. First, it brought baseball back to Washington, DC for the first time since 1971. Second, the game leapt into the national consciousness when 75-year-old Luke Appling hit a home run off Warren Spahn. Here's a great clip of that homer:
The excellent "National Pastime Museum" website has a detailed story about how the game came to be in 1982. Essentially, former Atlanta Braves Vice President Dick Cecil came up with the idea and took it to a PR firm that represented Cracker Jack and Borden Foods. Cracker Jack was looking for a way to reinvigorate its association with baseball, so the game got approved very quickly and most of the time discussing the game related to whom to invite.
The only part of the game that did not come together was having Major League Baseball's signoff. That signoff never came thanks to Bowie Kuhn and his PR guy, Bob Wirz. I have no idea why Wirz thought it would be a bad idea for MLB to sign on to this event. Then again, we are talking about Bowie Kuhn and the baseball PR and advisory squad that allowed the 1981 strike to happen.
The game continued to be played through 1990, eventually moving to Buffalo for its final three years to show off the new Pilot Field in Buffalo that was built by the Rich Family (owners of the Buffalo Bills as well).
HALL OF FAMERS
Fifteen of the sixteen players featured on the cards in this set are in the Hall of Fame. Only card 7 -- Tony Oliva -- is not in the Hall. Oliva is a much-debated candidate for the Hall, but he has yet to receive that honor.
Here's the list of the Hall members: Larry Doby, Bob Feller, Whitey Ford, Al Kaline, Harmon Killebrew, Mickey Mantle, Brooks Robinson, Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks, Ralph Kiner, Eddie Mathews, Willie Mays, Robin Roberts, Duke Snider, Warren Spahn
The Trading Card Database does not list any errors or variations. I'd argue that it is a variation as to whether the cards were kept in the uncut sheets or if they were cut apart (hopefully professionally).
Did I miss when the Hall of Fame took the concept of an Old Timer's Game and made it a part of its annual marketing efforts? In fairness, the "Hall of Fame Classic" is hardly the same thing. Instead of Warren Spahn pitching to Luke Appling, the Cooperstown version features Steve Woodard facing off against Lenny DiNardo, or Aaron Harang and Kerry Robinson against one another.
Perhaps a Hall of Famer's Game could be a fun addition to the enshrinement weekend in Cooperstown. I don't know why this is not a part of that weekend or a part of the Cooperstown events to have. I would guess the players simply do not want to do it -- or that enough players do not want to do it, at least.
I also don't know why only the 1982 Old Timer's Game got the benefit of having a card set issued for it. Did Cracker Jack/Borden decide that they did not want to pay for the cards to be produced any more? Did Topps get flak from its MLB licensors for using its license to print cards for a game that Bowie Kuhn did not support?
If you are interested in purchasing this set, it is widely available. For instance, Dave & Adam's Card World has the two-sheet set available for just $5.70 prior to shipping. If you want a crazy but awesome collectible, there is a fully JSA certified completely signed set available on eBay for $760 already framed. That would be a pretty cool set to have, though that is a bit rich for my blood!