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Pros in a Food League of Their Own

May 09, 1999|NICOLE BALIN

Move over, Paul Newman. This week, just as baseball season kicks into full gear, fans across the country can purchase a Texas-style steak sauce named after Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan. The retired pitcher resides on his ranch in Alvin, Texas, and, according to Ty Ballou of PLB Sports Inc., makers and distributors of the sauce, that makes Ryan a natural to help market it.

"He's a cattle rancher," Ballou says, "and, since he's played for teams from the New York Mets to the Anaheim Angels, he's respected and revered by fans everywhere."

In fact, food products like this (think Flutie Flakes, inspired by Buffalo Bills quarterback Doug Flutie) are gaining in popularity. Banking on the name recognition of popular athletes, PLB and others have concocted myriad condiments and candies, mostly available in regional grocery stores, with names like Bettis "The Bus" Barbecue Sauce (Pittsburgh Steelers running back Jerome Bettis) and Ed McCaffrey's Endzone O's (for the Denver Broncos wide receiver)--not to mention the Championship Cereal of Detroit Red Wings goaltender Chris Osgood and the All-Star Steak Sauce bearing the stamp of Cleveland Indians catcher Sandy Alomar Jr.

But this recent trend begs the question: Are these products champions like the players on their labels? We sampled the field.

Player: Omar Vizquel, Cleveland Indians shortstop

Product: Omar Vizquel Salsa

Rating: When he's not playing baseball, Vizquel can be found getting his Picasso on. Each jar of this red-hot, picante-flavored salsa features an image of an original Omar oil painting.

Player: Tom Glavine, Atlanta Braves pitcher

Product: Glavine's Garlic Marinara Sauce

Rating: Made only of tomatoes and lightly seasoned with herbs, this seven-time all-star pitcher's sauce is naturally simple. The bonus: Its label features career stats, like the number of World Series games in which Glavine played.

Player: David Justice, Cleveland Indians outfielder

Product: David Justice Bar

Rating: Though it's little more than a Nestle Crunch knockoff, the Justice Bar is thicker and richer than most. If that doesn't grab you, the wrapper (featuring a colorful illustration of Justice and a list of career highlights) surely will.

Player: Brett Hull, Dallas Stars right wing

Product: Hull-O's

Rating: To be sure, these sugar-drenched oats will score with the pint-sized hockey fans. (Ever tasted Frosted Cheerios?) But what these oats lack in originality, they make up for in sweetness. Even better, Hull is donating part of the proceeds to help children with chronic illnesses and physical disabilities.

Player: Jaromir Jagr, Pittsburgh Penguins right wing

Product: Jagr Creamy Peanut Butter

Rating: If you like your peanut butter crunchy, this will likely disappoint. But if you're into the smooth stuff, this Czechoslovakian-born hunk's spread is as creamy as it gets. Pushing the envelope of how gullible consumers can be, however, its manufacturers claim it's the only peanut butter with a "hockey puck looking" black lid.

Player: Adam Deadmarsh, Colorado Avalanche right wing

Product: Deadmarsh Deli Dills

Rating: Fittingly decorated with a purple-and-white tie-dye label, these are pretty much run-of-the mill dills. If you like Claussen, you'll probably find these salty pickles have just the right crunch.

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