You read a lot of retrospectives over woebegone discontinued sweets and treats from generations past. One candy bar not just reliably makes the list, it stands out like a mythical beacon of nostalgia not even the gobstopping Willie Wonka or Hubba Bubba chewing gum can outshine.
I’m talking about the ephemeral Reggie! bar, which crazed and glazed sweet teeth from the mid-1970s through the early Eighties. Named after the iconic New York Yankees slugger, Reggie Jackson (the Aaron Judge of his time), Curtiss Candy introduced the baseball-themed cluster bar in 1977. Comparable to the manufacturers’ Baby Ruth (featuring the namesake of Grover Cleveland’s daughter), the Reggie! bar struck many candy connoisseurs’ fancies, at least until its original demise in 1982.
Let me give you an abbreviated tale of two baseball cities, Baltimore and New York. One blue collar, the other a mash of working class and Wall Street. Baltimore has always been considered minor league compared to the pinstriped Metropolis (or slate gray and orange if you’re a Mets backer). This inferiority complex which has long plagued the city used to give Baltimore citizens, much less their sports teams, a collective chip on their shoulders. The swagger has returned, planted square upon the backs of the Ravens in the NFL. In the past couple decades especially, it’s no secret the Orioles have been the Yankees’ whipping boys. A current historical record of the two teams’ series over the years has the Yankees overpowering the O’s in a lopsided 1301-888 drubbing.
Granted, Baltimore’s rebuilding roster has finally shown sparks of competitiveness and they’ve managed to gnash at the Bronx Bombers’ heels here and there the past few years. During the 1970s and 80s, however, both cities boasted two of the top contending teams in Major League Baseball. Their slugfests back then were the stuff of the game’s canon, though incomparable to eons-worth of Yankees-Red Sox diamond duels. I was there to see some of those O’s-Yanks epics as a kid in the Orioles’ original home, Memorial Stadium. Seems way too long and just like yesterday I was cheering on my baseball idol, Eddie Murray, along with O’s legends, Al Bumbry, Lee May, Doug DeCinces, Don Stanhouse, Mark Belanger, Ken Singleton, Gary Roenicke, Rick Dempsey, Sammy Stewart and all the harbingers of Orioles Magic back then.
Reggie Jackson once played for the Oakland Athletics and, for a single season in 1976, with the Baltimore Orioles before migrating to the Big Apple and finding superstardom. Legend had it during his time as an Oriole that Reggie claimed if he could land a spot with the Yankees, he would have a candy named after him.
So it came to pass. Jackson turned Yankee and in New York’s home opener for the 1978 season, the Reggie! bar was offered as a promotional giveaway to the fans. After pounding out a home run in his first at-bat of the season against the Chicago White Sox (this feat following his four dinger romp in the 1977 World Series), fans threw the candy bars onto the field in celebration, delaying the game by five minutes for clean-up. Consider it a precursor to uber-hockey fans throwing their caps onto the ice when a home team player nabs a three netter hat trick.
Though it made a short-lived rebrand with a swap of peanut butter from caramel in the Nineties, the Reggie! bar was more phenomenon than novelty. If you lived the times, you no doubt had a go with a Reggie! bar at least once. Most compared the cluster candy of milk chocolate, peanuts and caramel to a Baby Ruth bar (easy cheat, considering the Yankees tie), but I liken it more to a Nashville-proud Goo Goo bar.
Despite the Yankees being considered nefarious enemies of the Baltimore Orioles back in the day, we had a soft spot for Reggie Jackson. Most baseball fans at-large did. Like Aaron Judge or even Shohei Ohtani in today’s league, Reggie was a spectacle, much like his predecessors, Mickey Mantle, Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio. A Reggie Jackson at-bat was something to veer your eyes to, either at the stadium or on t.v. It made selling his candy bar all too easy back then. Like the man himself, people couldn’t get enough of the Reggie! bar when it first came out for a quarter. It was advertised as heavily as Budweiser and Old Spice pitches of the day.
Where I lived as a child for a few years in the mid 1970s, we couldn’t get a proper snow plow in the winter, but we could get a Reggie! bar at the tiny Winfield Market in Woodbine, a rural beyond rural hamlet in Carroll County, Maryland. A solid hour away from Memorial Stadium.
I used to get a dollar a week allowance for doing chores and with that buck, I could pester my folks on a Saturday to take me to the Winfield Market, where I could get a comic book, a pack of baseball (or Star Wars) trading cards, a Frosty root beer and a Reggie! bar. Can you stand it? All that swag for a single dollar! Ponder that a moment in this hellish bull market we’ve been thrust into.
Today, the Reggie! bar is a time capsule slab of chocolaty remembrance you have a feeling may surface as a rebooted good times throwback in the gift shop at your local Cracker Barrel. Fifties kids can still score Necco wafers, Sky Bars and Moon Pies to get their evocative sugar kicks in their golden years. Now would be a great time for sentimentality and a Reggie! resurface while there are still generations alive to plunk down for it. So long as it’s not an inflated $3.89 thrill seek.
Then again, we’re not far off some seeing a Judge Jaw Buster or his countenance replacing the hand-drawn homer king on a pack of Big League Chew. The Reggie! bar hung around during a period of economic flounder, gas shortages, American hostages overseas and political imbalance in the United States. New York City was then called “The Rotten Apple” from all-around negligence. Escapism works where it will.
-Ray Van Horn, Jr.