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As you may recall, the Uni Watch Classic Cap got some TV exposure last week when a hot dog vendor was shown wearing it during an A’s game.
The TV broadcasters identified the vendor as “Hal the Hot Dog Guy.” I put a note on the site the next day, inviting Hal to get in touch with me — and he did!
After confirming that Hal really was who he claimed to be, I asked if he’d be willing to do a phone interview. He readily agreed. Here’s how our conversation went:
Uni Watch: First, tell me a little bit about yourself. How old are you, where do you live, and what do you do for a living when you’re not selling hot dogs?
Hal the Hot Dog Guy: I’m 31, I live in San Francisco, and I’m a Ph.D. grad student at Cal-Berkeley, getting a degree in environmental economics.
UW: How did you get into vending?
HtHDG: I started vending between high school and college in Chicago, where I grew up. I needed a summer job, and I knew another kid in my high school who vended. I said, “How can I get that job?” And he said, “Here, call this phone number,” which was the number for a union. So I called and I said I wanted to vend, and they said, “Alright, show up at this warehouse in two weeks.” My first game I think it was like 40 degrees out there, and I was selling Pepsi. I must have made about $20.
UW: How long have you been a vendor for the A’s?
HtHDG: I lived in DC for a while and kept vending at Nats games, and occasionally for the Orioles. Then I moved here for grad school, and I started vending at Giants and A’s games in 2016.
UW: Have you always had this high-profile persona, for lack of a better term?
HtHDG: The A’s have real low attendance. So they went to the vending company and said, “We want to do something that’s more entertaining for the fans, even if it’s not necessarily as money-making.” They’d seen some YouTube videos of a hot dog vendor in Cleveland or something who went around with all these condiments, and he’d act all ridiculous in this old-timey red-and-white striped outfit. So the A’s said, “Just give us something like that. Don’t worry about making money. Just create a good fan experience.”
So they went to this guy named Jim, who’s the oldest vendor here and asked him to set it up. And I guess he’d spotted something ridiculous in me. Like, “Oh, you’d be a good lunatic to do this.” That was about two-and-a-half years ago.
UW: So before that, your vending style was more conventional? But then you were told be more performative?
HtHDG: Yeah, exactly, exactly. But doing this has been the most fun I’ve ever had vending.
UW: I can tell just from talking with you, I can hear it your voice, that they got the right guy. You have the right attitude for this!
HtHDG: Well, like I said, Jim had spotted something in me, that I was ridiculous enough to try something like this.
UW: And what was your response when they asked you to do this?
HtHDG: It seemed like something different. And the idea of enhancing the fan experience was intriguing to me. My favorite book as a kid was Bill Veeck’s Veeck as in Wreck, and I always loved his approach. He’d do things that were a little silly, so people would laugh and have fun, and that’s sort of my philosophy. One of my favorite things to do is — when I started, I’d yell about hot dogs, leading chants like “Let’s eat hot dogs!” instead of “Let’s go Oakland!”
My new favorite chant is, I’ll stand at the front the section and yell, “Gimme an A!” And everyone yells, “A!” Then, “What’s that spell? A’s!” People laugh and stuff.
And you know, the usual thing with vending is that you want to sell quickly. You’re paid by commission and you want to sell as fast as you can. But the way I work now, with all the chants and these condiments —
UW: Yeah, I wanted to ask you about that. I’m used to the hot dog vendor just giving me a packet of mustard and kinda glaring at me if I ask for two packets.
HtHDG: Exactly. But instead of packets, we actually have Heinz bottles of mustard, ketchup —
UW: When you say “we,” do you mean just you and Jim? Or all of the A’s hot dog vendors?
HtHDG: Jim and I are really the only hot dog vendors in the stadium. You can buy a hot dog at the stand, but we’re the only ones vending in the seats. Again, the A’s don’t draw well — last night there were maybe 8,000 people in the entire stadium.
The way Jim and I work, it’s a different kind of vendor experience. Usually you show up, they hand you your food, and you go out there. But we get there early, we make the hot dogs ourselves, make sure all our relish, sauerkraut, and onions are ready to go. And when we walk around, we don’t actually make that many sales. But we talk to a lot of people. And a lot of the old regulars there, they know us and they’ll have their hot dog order ready to go.
UW: But if you’re making fewer sales, are you earning less money?
HtHDG: Well, I don’t want to go into specifics, but I don’t work on commission. I get a flat fee for every game. And the fans still tip.
UW: From seeing that TV clip of you, I get the impression that you’re pretty famous, at least among A’s fans. The TV guys talked about you as if they knew you. Are you friends with them, or is just one of those things where they know you because you’re famous in the ballpark?
HtHDG: It’s just because I’m famous in the ballpark. Maybe I’ll try and contact them and see if they’ll have me up in the booth for an interview or something. But yeah, a lot of the fans know me. One thing I did this year, I went to the Topps website, and you can make your own baseball cards there. So I had a photo of myself vending hot dogs and had that made into some baseball cards, which I’ll hand out to people.
UW: That’s awesome! Do they ask you to autograph it?
HtHDG: Yeah, I had to start bringing Sharpies with me! It’s all pretty ridiculous, right? You’re asking for an autograph from some schlub who walks around and sells hot dogs. But it’s fun. [After our interview, Hal mailed me one of his cards. But he didn’t autograph it! Dang. — PL]
Here’s another autograph story: I tore my ACL two years ago playing soccer and had surgery in the offseason. The doctor in Berkeley had all kinds of signed photos of Pac-12 collegiate athletes in his office, so the last time I visited, I brought a framed signed picture of me vending as a joke. Six months later, some woman comes up to me at the Coliseum and says, “I work in a surgeon’s office and there’s a picture of you selling hot dogs on the wall next to the football players.” Bill Veeck would be proud.
I should say here that while I might get on TV a bit more, Jim is the brains and the heart behind the operation, making sure we have presentable-looking condiment bottles every homestand — the labels start looking awful after a week or so — making sure everything is up to health code. He is a true Bay Area vending legend in my book. Fans at Giants games recognize him going back 35 years.
UW: I notice you say, “vending” and “vend” and “vended” a lot. Never “selling”; always “vending.”
HtHDG: The industry standard is to refer to ourselves as vendors and the action as vending. I would only use the word sell in the sentence, “How much did you sell last night?” Or “What product did you sell last night?” But I would never say, “I was selling at the Giants game last night.” You would always say “I vended last night.” To me, selling is generic, but vending is the trade or craft of running up and down stairs selling food or beer in a stadium.
UW: How long have you been a Uni Watch reader?
HtHDG: Probably eight or nine years.
UW: I assume you don’t wear a Uni Watch cap for every single game. How do you usually handle your headwear, and how did the Uni Watch cap become part of the rotation?
HtHDG: When Jim and I started doing this, we had really janky uniforms. They gave us those paper hats, which have that old-timey look. But once you start sweating in those, they start disintegrating. And there’s also no brim for day games.
So last year I started wearing A’s hats. And then when you guys started selling the Uni Watch hats, I was like, “You know, those are A’s colors.” And the [winged stirrup] looks a lot like one of the old White Sox logos, so it has those Chicago roots for me. So I got that over the winter, and I also got a Chicago Dogs hat — which I learned about from Uni Watch!
So now I have three or four hats, and I just grab one as I’m walking out the door.
UW: So you had worn the Uni Watch hat prior to the game when they showed you wearing it on TV?
HtHDG: Yeah, that was probably like the third time.
UW: Did any of your customers recognize it?
HtHDG: I think one person said, “Nice Uni Watch hat.” Most people thought it was an old A’s hat, especially since it’s the old wool style. Like, “What year is that from?”
UW: Do your bosses care what kind of hat you wear?
HtHDG: Not really. At one point they told us to wear a plain black hat, so I did that for one game. My philosophy in general is, ask for forgiveness, not for permission.
UW: What about the rest of your outfit? When I saw you on TV wearing the Uni Watch cap, you were also wearing a striped vest and a necktie! What’s that all about?
HtHDG: When we started doing this, they gave us these striped vests so we’d look like an old-timey hot dog guy.
UW: An old Nathan’s guy.
HtHDG: Yeah, exactly! Anyway, the vending company must have gone to a costume shop or something, and gotten these two red-and-white striped vests. There were really thin, all polyester. Definitely not built to handle a guy running up and down stairs with 50 pounds of hot dogs. So they started fraying immediately. And we had white polo shirts underneath the vests.
So then Jim, who’s always trying to make sure we look good and classy, he knew this old guy who makes custom shoes and clothing. Usually high-end stuff, for really rich clients. But we walked in there and said, “We want custom hot dog vendor vests.” So he made them for us from scratch. It’s pretty cool — years from now, when I no longer live here and I’m no longer vending, I’m sure I’ll still have that vest. The only drawback is it’s really thick, so it’s a sweat machine during day games.
So then we had these fancy vests — and we’re gonna wear the same white polo shirts underneath them? I think a fan gave Jim a green and yellow bow tie last year, so Jim got a short-sleeved white dress shirt and began wearing the bow tie with it. And of course that made me look like a schlub, so I went on eBay and found an A’s tie for eight bucks and started wearing that. So now that’s become part of the thing.
UW: What about pants and shoes — anything special there, or just standard-issue apparel?
HtHDG: Standard-issue. But we did do one other cool thing, which was we went back to the same tailor and had nametags put on the vests.
UW: Yeah, I saw yours. It almost looks like it was written in mustard — was that the idea?
HtHDG: No. Since I’m Hal, and I’m at school at Cal, I doctored the Cal logo to make it say Hal. Most people don’t notice, but if I point it out, then they can tell.
UW: Ahhh, Hal from Cal. Nice. Have you ever vended at Cal?
HtHDG: A few times at their football games, yup.
UW: If you’re a longtime Uni Watch reader, you may recall that I like putting capers on my hot dog. Any chance that you might add capers to your topping options, at least when you’re wearing the Uni Watch hat?
HtHDG: Yeah, I did see that! For condiments, we normally have bottles of ketchup, mustard, and relish. And those bins that we keep on top, I think they’re older than I am. They’re remnants from Candlestick. In there we have onions, sauerkraut, and jalapeños. And the reason we picked those is that that’s what they had at the ballpark.
UW: I will personally reimburse you if you get capers.
HtHDG: Just for you, I will go out and — you know, we’ve been trying to come up with other things. Just the other day I brought a bottle of Sriracha with me. So for our next homestand [which begins on May 7], I will get a small thing of capers and I will ask people, “Do you want capers on your hot dog?” And I will report back.
UW: I encourage you to try it yourself and see how good it is, so you can say to them, “You know what, I’ve tried it and it’s not bad!”
HtHDG: Well, that’s the other big secret about me being a hot dog vendor, which is that I’m also a vegetarian. So I don’t eat the hot dogs! But I will go out and buy my favorite veggie dog, grill it up, and put capers on it. And if I like it, I will then attest to people that putting capers on a hot dog is delicious.
UW [cracking up]: Fantastic. You can wear the Uni Watch hat and say the guy whose hat it is made you do it.
HtHDG: Exactly. “So this hat is from this blog you haven’t heard of, and he saw me wearing it, and then I called him, and then he told me to get capers, and now I’m telling you to put capers on your hot dog. You want ’em? No? Okay, never mind.”
Oh, man — was that the best interview ever or what? Hal has really found his calling. When he eventually gets his degree, it may be environmental economics’ gain, but it will definitely be vending’s and baseball’s loss.
But wait — there’s more. A lot more. As I usually do toward the end of an interview, I asked Hal if he could send me a decent photo or two of himself. He responded two days later with a Dropbox folder packed with photos, most of which he described or explained in an accompanying email. Many of the descriptions were uni-related, so I’m going to show them here. In each case, I’m posting the photo (which you can click to enlarge) followed by Hal’s description of it. Here we go:
“This is from my rookie year, Game Two of the 2005 World Series. We normally wore standard Sox hats, but during the World Series they gave us a hat with a special World Series logo on it, although it’s a little hard to see in the photo. The guy in front of me is my dad, a huge White Sox fan.”
“I worked a few playoff games in Baltimore. I did like that unlike most places that had us wear high-vis yellow, Baltimore had us wear orange, which made us harder to spot but felt more like a sports uniform.”
“For Caps games, we wore ref’s uniforms. The mostly disappointing part of this uniform was the hat, which had the logo of the Verizon Center. The other story of this uniform was every time someone saw me coming home from a game, they asked me if I was a ref. But when my black vendor friends were going home, people always asked them if they worked at Foot Locker.”
“Caps Winter Classic, Jan. 1, 2015. When you’re vending, you’re running around, so if it’s 40 degrees out, you can still wear short sleeves, whereas the fans are sitting still and drinking, so they’re freezing.”
“Jim and I were about to head out for Opening Day 2018. This is our prep station, where we go back and refill our condiment bottles and trays and get more of everything. Each reload takes probably 10 minutes since there is so much to bring and refill, which is an eternity in vending. Notice we still have the clown vests (the good vests had been ordered but weren’t ready yet). This was the first time I wore a baseball hat, and I chose an Oakland Oaks hat. I thought that would be a nice way to capture the retro feeling of the hot dog man service, and also the colors went with the candy-striped vest. Very few people recognized what the hat was, however, so I switched to an A’s hat eventually.”
“That’s my dad again in the Northwestern hat. Here you can see I’m wearing the fancy custom-made vest, not the old clown vest.”
“This is from Cal Stanford night, 2018, which explains the hats. That’s my fiancée next to me in the Stanford sweatshirt. She just graduated from law school there.”
“This is from July 4, 2018. I wore a blue undershirt underneath the striped vest, so I’d look like a giant American flag.”
“Here’s a closer look at the vest. After a homestand it is covered in mustard stains, which are getting harder and harder to get out. The tailor — Al, whose shop is called Al’s Attire — did an amazing job. There are pockets and you can see that he used red trim around the armholes, plus the stripes line up along the seams, which is really cool. Also, Al puts unique tags inside each garment he makes.”
“We also ordered custom straps from Al, and he put our names on those too.”
Paul here. And we’re still not done, because Hal also sent me a bunch of video clips from his various TV appearances. They’re all short but very, very sweet. Enjoy:
Okay — now we’re finally done. I don’t mind saying that this is one of the most enjoyable Uni Watch entries I’ve ever worked on, which means Hal has enhanced my fan experience — from 3,000 miles away. Thanks, buddy!
Bling thing redux: Two days I wrote about how heavily jewelried Dodgers outfielder Alex Verdugo broke one of his necklaces while running the bases. Last night he had the same thing happen while attempting to catch a fly ball at the wall. Check out this video clip:
Verdugo now clearly leads the league in bling mishaps, which is one of those advanced metrics everyone talks about these days.
(Big thanks to Mike Chamernik for this one.)
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Another great cap: Last week I showed you the cap for a Uni Watch reader’s beer league team, the Oakland Beers. Now another reader, Drew McNeil, has shared a photo of the hat for his sandlot team, the Tulsa City Saturns. Love that design! Drew says the caps were made for the team by Ebbets Field Flannels — nice!
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Jeopardy! Watch: Like many Americans, I’ve taken an interest in James Holzhauer, the game show dynamo who’s quickly rewriting the book on Jeopardy! Aside from his impressive winning streak, I’m fascinated, and a bit disturbed, by his attire. He usually wears a V-neck sweater — with nothing underneath it (or if he does have a base layer, it too is a V-neck), so his upper chest is left exposed. Who wears a V-neck sweater that way? A V-neck tee, maybe, but a sweater? It’s like when a baseball player doesn’t have an undershirt — weird.
For reasons I can’t fully explain, this makes me antsy. Part of it is that I have a lot of chest hair in that spot, so if I wore a V-neck sweater like Holzhauer does, I’d have a rich forest of hair spilling forth for all to see — or else I’d have to shave it. Which raises the question: Does Holzhauer shave his chest? Or maybe he waxes? Or Nairs? Or some other depilatory method?
If I appeared on Jeopardy! and was going up against Holzhauer, I’d be half-beaten before the show even started, just because I’d be weirded out by the V-neck. And given the degree of gamesmanship he clearly displays in other facets of the game, it’s not unreasonable to ask: Is the V-neck just another way of fucking with his opponents? If so, I wouldn’t be surprised.
Since this is Uni Watch, here’s a photo of Holzhauer in a Vegas Golden Knights jersey.
Design contest reminder: In case you missed it last week, Uni Watch is teaming up with the Portland Pickles — that’s a college wood bat summer team — for a contest to design the Pickles’ “Future Baseball Night” jersey, which will be worn on July 4. There’s a $150 cash prize for the winning designer, along with a free futuristic jersey.
Entry deadline is tomorrow, May 3. Full details on the contest rules and entry requirements, along with the full scoop on what “Future Baseball Night” will entail, can be found here.
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LAST CALL for this week’s raffle: Our friends at longtime Uni Watch advertiser Vintage Brand are once again letting me run a raffle for a lucky Uni Watch reader. The winner will be able to choose any item from the Vintage Brand website (including the canvas print of a Cubs program cover shown above).
To enter, send an email to the raffle address by 7pm ET today. One entry per person. I’ll announce the winner on Friday.
Baseball News: Little League World Series uniforms, which for the past few decades have been made by Russell Athletic, will now be made by Adidas. … Red Sox C Christian Vásquez wore eye red, instead of eye black, yesterday (from Alex Smolokoff). … The Triple-A Charlotte Knights showed solidarity with yesterday morning’s UNC Charlotte shooting victims by wearing green caps — the UNC Charlotte’s team color — for yesterday’s game against the Gwinnett Stripers (from James Gilbert). … The Rangers wore red jerseys and caps yesterday, but C Jeff Mathis wore blue catcher’s gear (from @JBeck132). … Phillies players Bryce Harper and Rhys Hoskins traded jerseys with Philadelphia Eagles QB Carson Wentz. … Here’s a Padres uni tracker up through the end of April (from @PadsUniTracker). … Here’s the cap patch that the Angels — and presumably also the Astros — will wear for their Mexico Series games this weekend (from Arthur Kinney). … There’s a lot going on in this photo of a Tennessee Smokies player. His uni number is badly off-center, he appears to have a memorial patch above his NOB (very odd place for that), and the color of his nameplate doesn’t quite match the color of his jersey (from Derek Brownlee). … Mets SS Amed Rosario came to bat last night wearing a metallic-toned gold elbow guard. Never seen him, or any other Met, wearing that before. … Nats P Dan Jennings hasn’t worn No. 43 since he was with the Rays in 2017 — he now wears No. 26 for the Nats — but still has 43 on his glove. He apparently wore it last season when he wore No. 38 for the Brewers, too (from Ryan Bowman and @champagnedirky). … One of the Mr. Redlegs figures that were recently positioned on benches around Cincinnati was vandalized (thanks, Brinke).
NFL News: New draft-class uni numbers for the Bengals and Falcons (thanks, Phil). … We already knew that the NFL 100 logo will be appearing on jersey collars and rear helmet shells this season. Now, thanks to a Madden screen shot, we can see that it will also be appearing on the pants. Not a surprise, but it’s good to have confirmation (from Clint Richardson). … If you’ve ever wondered what a Steelers helmet would look like with a yellow facemask, here you go. … The Bengals had newly drafted TE Drew Sample pose with a jersey with an upside-down 6 instead of a proper 9. You can tell from the drop shadows (from Tony Theobald). … Former Washington QB Joe Theismann has given the team’s newly drafted QB, Dwayne Haskins, permission to wear No. 7. … Cross-listed from the baseball section: Eagles QB Carson Wentz traded jerseys with Philadelphia Phillies players Bryce Harper and Rhys Hoskins. … If you look at this Instagram post showing Panthers rookies with their new jerseys, you can see that two of them have the NFL 100 logo on the collar, but one of them doesn’t (from Nathan Applebaum). … A Bengals fan thinks head coach Zac Taylor’s draft day attire left a lot to be desired (from K.C. Kless).
Hockey News: Here’s a rare treat: a hockey rink with no ads on the ice. That’s the home ice of the Shreveport Mudbugs of the NAHL. “They had ads and logos on the ice all season,” says @BusLeagueHockey, so it’s not clear why they’ve now disappeared.
Basketball News: New Jersey Devils P.A. announcer Kevin Clark, who I wrote about two months ago, is also an artist. Back in 1997, he was hired to create this artwork for the 76ers’ media guide. It was going to be the team’s first season wearing that uniform, so they loaned him a prototype uniform to use as visual reference. “I just thought it was really cool at the time that I had possession of these items and nobody even knew what the uniforms were going to look like yet. Unfortunately, I didn’t take any photos.” Also unfortunate: The Sixers decided not to use his cover art and instead went with a different design. … Robert Morris’s new arena is ready to open (from Jim Vilk).
Soccer News: New uniforms for Stoke City (from Josh Hinton). … New throwback keeper’s kit for Bayer 04 Leverkusen (from Ed Zelaski). … Also from Ed: New home kit for Celtic. … Man U apparently has a 1999 throwback in the works (thanks, Phil). … The first 3,000 fans at Saturday’s Las Vegas Lights FC game will receive a Mexican wrestling cape (Josh Hinton again). … Also from Josh: Borussia Dortmund’s new kit has leaked. … And one more from Josh: West Ham has extended its kit deal with Umbro.
Grab Bag: New York City is banning alcohol ads (NYT link) on city property. … New logo for Disney’s Hollywood Studios. … Apple is claiming that the logo for a German cycling path infringes on the company’s trademarked logo. … Yesterday’s Ticker mentioned that this year’s SI swimsuit issue will feature, for the first time, a model wearing a burkini and a hijab. Here’s an interesting analysis of that development (WaPo link). … Speaking of SI, it appears that their days as a print magazine may be numbered. … The teams at Council Bluffs-Jefferson High School in Iowa are called the Yellow Jackets, but their colors do not include yellow. Scroll through the responses to that tweet to see similar examples. … New helmet for Fox Racing, one of the best-known motocross brands (from John Flory). … Aussie football news: Hawthorn’s new high-profile recruit, Chad Wingard, sometimes likes to wear long sleeves, but Hawthorn has a “No long sleeves” policy (from James MacNeil).