WESTMINSTER, Md. - Steve and Mandy Dunne have a lovely home, full of suburban charm. They have a 3-year-old son, Ryan, and another son on the way in August. Steve is a passionate Philadelphia sports fan, which you can surmise easily enough by the two flags hanging over his driveway - one for the Phillies, the other for the Flyers - and the shrine he has set up in his cozy basement hideaway to display the Philadelphia sports memorabilia he has collected through the years. But if you truly want to know how off-the-charts crazy he is when it comes to Philly sports, get him to go digging in his freezer.
To the casual observer, none of the contents inside would appear to be especially unusual. At a glance, the freezer would seem to be a fairly typical one, which is to say jammed without an inch to spare. On various shelves, you have your Turkey Hill ice cream, a box of waffles and a package of Hot Pockets. There are some hamburger patties, some chicken, French fries, popsicles and . . . hmmm . . . what do we have here? Something inside of a freezer bag that has been clearly labeled: DO NOT THROW AWAY.
Dunne removed the bag and with a laugh said, "So do you want to see it?"
Gingerly, the Social Security analyst opened the bag to reveal a hot dog. But it was not just any hot dog. This was one was preserved from a game he attended in 2003, the last year the Phillies played at Veterans Stadium. Still in the original tinfoil wrapping that it came in, the hot dog itself has been on ice nearly as long as Ted Williams, the Red Sox Hall of Famer whose head is sitting in a subzero canister at an Arizona cryonics lab. Interestingly, the hot dog itself has held up better than the tinfoil, which is in state of advanced disintegration. At 8 years old and counting, it has some freezer burns and shows some discoloring, but chances are you have been handed something that looks worse from one of the street corner vendors in Philadelphia.
Dunne handed to it to me.
"Do you have a pair of HAZ MAT gloves?" I asked him.
He laughed. "Once," he said, "I thought about having it shellacked and put down in the basement. How sad is that?"
Of course, there is a story behind the Dunnes and what they have come to think of as "the family dog." It began on Friday evening, June 6, 2003. Dunne, then living in Exton, had won a pair of Phillies tickets from a local bar and went down to the Vet with his buddy, Matt Iacavone. The Phils were playing Oakland - a game they would fall behind early in and end up losing 7-4. But, hey, Dunne and Iacavone had seats in the 600 level and could not have been happier. To begin with, it was Hatfield Dollar Dog Night and they loaded up: Dunne bought eight, and Iacavone bought four or so. The totals could be off somewhat, but the bottom line was, by the end of the evening, Dunne still had one hot dog left.
Long story short: Dunne looked at it in his hand and decided: Well, it would be a shame to waste it. Maybe he'd get hungry later. So he took it home and tossed it in the refrigerator, thinking he'd warm it over the next day. Except, he forgot it was in there. A week or so later, he opened the refrigerator and was looking around for something to eat when he saw it sitting there. The thing was no longer edible, but the sentimental side of him kicked in. Dunne loved The Vet! Some people called it a cement toilet bowl, but he had enjoyed some of his fondest childhood memories there. So he tossed in the freezer. It was at that moment that he became the owner of one of the oddest - and perhaps most worthless - pieces of sports memorabilia ever recorded.
Odd sports memorabilia is nothing new. In fact, there is curious tradition of it. As a publicity ploy for his gum company, Mueller Sports Medicine, Curt Mueller once paid $10,000 in an online auction for a piece of game-used gum chewed by Arizona slugger Luis Gonzalez. Tennis star Andre Agassi once sold his ponytail for thousands of dollars to a Las Vegas sports café, where it is currently on display in a glass case. A woman in 1999 spent $7,475 for false teeth once worn by Hall of Fame baseball player Ty Cobb. Pitcher Jeff Nelson once attempted to sell some bone chips harvested from an elbow surgery on eBay, only to be advised that selling body parts was against eBay regulations. Dave Hunt, the president of Hunt Auctions Inc. in Exton, was not involved in any of those offerings but said, "We certainly do come across all manner of unique items in our travels."
"We once had an embalmed set of African frogs which had been posed at all nine baseball fielding positions," Hunt said. "Someone paid $1,000 for the set and made a coffee table out of them. Priceless."
And the hot dog?
Does Hunt have an opinion?
More on that later . . .
Dunne took the hot dog wherever he went. His friend, Dave Brown, said: "He became handcuffed to it." Through four moves, he carried it in an ice chest so it would not thaw out. Otherwise, he had never had it out of the freezer for 10 minutes at a time. Occasionally, he would bring it out whenever he had a get-together and explain what it was to friends. Always, they would look at it with amazement, unable to comprehend who keeps a hot dog in the freezer for 8 years. A slice of your wedding cake, yes. But a hot dog? Some friends have told him to get rid of it, but Dunne says never, that his hot dog now has a "cult" aspect to it. In fact, Mark Stewart, an old friend, said that he could envision Dunne passing it down at some point to his son, who in turn keeps it preserved in his freezer. Generations of Dunnes could end up with it.
So what does Mandy think of "the family dog"? When she married Dunne, she knew he liked the Phillies and she knew he liked hot dogs (Dunne once ate 13 of them at an event for the Wilmington Blue Rocks, where he once worked). But there have been a few occasions when she had cleaned out the freezer and has told her horrified husband, "All right, I'm getting rid of this thing! We need room in here." But no marriage is without compromise, and Mandy has always given in. At this point, it seems likely that the hot dog will be with them forever. That is, unless someone with more dollars than sense offers Dunne a deal for it that he could not turn away from.
"I tried to sell it on craigslist once," Dunne said. "I asked $300 for it, just to see what would happen."
"Some guy emailed me and called me a freak," Dunne said. "He said, 'What kind of moron tries to sell a hot dog online?' I got into a back-and-forth with him. I should have saved the emails. They were comical. He wanted to call me out over it."
So what does Dunne think the hot dog his actually worth?
He laughed and said, "Probably nothing."
But Hunt did see some potential that perhaps would surprise Dunne. Of the hot dog - which by the way, he called "surreal" - Hunt said, "Impossible to quantify given the scarcity, but with amortization from its original one U.S. dollar cost, it could reach as high as $3."
Dunne said he guessed that was "good news."