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One of America’s true sports legends has just been tossed into the dustbin of history at Coney Island.
Last week, the organizers of the Nathan’s hot dog eating contest hung a new “Wall of Fame” above the hallowed ground where the annual man-eat-dog war is waged — and Ed “The Maspeth Monster” Krachie has been edited out.
Krachie’s not the only competitive eating giant who ended up on the scrap heap. Mike “The Scholar” Devito, who earned his nickname because of his scholarly approach to the game of champions, also didn’t make the final version. Nor did “Hungry” Charles Hardy, Eric “Badlands” Booker or even Amos Wengler, the “Bard” of Coney Island.
That lump in my throat isn’t my 23rd hot dog of the day repeating on me — it’s genuine disgust.
Say what you will about competitive eating — that it’s repulsive, that it wastes otherwise important hot dogs, that it encourages inner-city kids to neglect schooling in favor of a shot at glory — but one thing you could never say about the game was that it chewed up and spit out its heroes.
International Federation of Competitive Eating President George Shea always maintained the highest level of integrity, carefully keeping the sport’s dizzying oral history from that very first contest in 1917 to the “dead dog era” of the 1970s (when nine hot dogs and buns was enough to win the coveted Mustard Yellow International Belt) to the Japanese invasion of the 1990s all the way through to the current reign of American legend Joey “Jaws” Chestnut.
But I never thought I’d see the day when Shea would bury his heroes under a pile of gristle.
Heroes? You betcha:
• Krachie was the first American eater to consistently break “the Deuce,” the 20 HDB mark that, like the four-minute mile, was thought to be insurmountable. He also revolutionized the game by publishing a scientific paper called “The Belt of Fat Theory” that predicted the rise of a generation of thin eaters. The paper was submitted to the Journal of the American Medical Association, which foolishly passed on it. It was eventually published in The Brooklyn Paper. Naturally.
• Devito was a two-time champion in the early 1990s whose greatest achievement came when he defeated Orio Ito, a tiny Japanese eater, in a one-on-one stuff-your-faceoff under the Brooklyn Bridge. Ito was the first of a wave of challengers who would soon come from the Land of the Rising Bun, but Devito sent her packing, forestalling the complete invasion by at least three years.
• Hardy was the game’s first African-American star, a man who was better known, and better respected, in the Marcy Houses than Michael Jordan or Stephon Marbury.
• Legendary Las Vegas Lothario Cary DeGrossa competed in a Hefner-esque bathrobe and gave the game its most-lasting legacy: the Bunnettes, a group of red, white and blue-clad groupies who became delicious figures on the circuit.
• Wengler may not always sing on key, but his haunting anthems, most especially, “Hot Dog Time,” have transfixed a generation. Before he fades into the mists of a Shea-induced Purgatory, let’s consider this stanza:
Hot dogs, hot dogs
Watch them eat them up
Hot dogs, hot dogs
Great with soda pop
A Fourth of July without Wengler is positively unpatriotic.
Of course, Shea dismissed my carping as the complaints of a man out of step with the sport as it enters its 11th decade.
“The question is this: Do you listen to Lady Gaga or The Who?” Shea asked. “The bottom line is that it’s a ‘Wall of Fame.’ None of the people you mentioned, plus Don ‘Moses’ Lerman, ‘Krazy’ Kevin Lipsitz or Ed ‘Cookie’ Jarvis, have fame anymore. The guys on that wall now have eclipsed all of them.”
Eclipse? Tim “Eater X” Janus? What, because he ate 7.72 pounds of boneless chicken wings last month in Buffalo? How does that compare to uniting a nation, as Krachie did?
Tim “Gravy” Brown? He’s a hero because he once ate 3.74 pounds of fried potato wedges? That’s not a champion! Takeru Kobayashi, the greatest eater of all time, once ate 17.7 pounds of pan-seared cow brains. But give Shea time — someday even six-time champion Kobayashi will be erased from our history.
“Fame is fickle,” said Shea. “You mock ‘Gravy’ Brown, but he was featured in a one-hour drama on the Bio channel called, ‘I’m a Major League Eater,’ and we would need two Mike Devitos or Three Cary DeGrossas to eat what he eats. And Maxim magazine once featured Crazy Legs Conti in a spread of him doing the town in a white stretch limo with a monkey. Is there are higher degree of fame than that?
“Basically, you are a sad little man — sad that your era has faded,” Shea added. “You are like the Brooklyn Dodger fan always talking about how Ralph Branca was better than Tom Seaver. Ralph Branca? He is a 10 HDB man compared to Seaver.”
Yet beneath the bluster, I detected a note of caution in Shea’s tone. I pressed him on the Krachie snub. Face it, it sticks in the craw like a burp that just won’t come up.
“OK, you got me,” Shea said, actually welling up. “I am going to send a formal complaint to Nathan’s. Krachie’s fame is the platform on which all of these other eaters have been able to compete and assume a place in our larger culture.
“He is more than an eater,” Shea concluded. “He is an institution.”
©2010 Community News Group
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