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The Curse of the Poisoned Pretzel

Grade 6 | Informative | Source-Based

Source Lexile®: 1150L

Learning Standards




Prompt: In this story, the reader is strongly encouraged to believe that Skidmore is guilty of poisoning his brother Manchester. Explain several ways that the author develops this perspective or point of view without actually stating that Skidmore is guilty. Be sure to use evidence from the text to support your response. 




Excerpt from “The Curse of the Poisoned Pretzel”
fromTwo Hot Dogs with Everything by Paul Haven  


In the history of baseball, no team had tormented its fans with more gut-wrenching defeats and wasted promise than the Sluggers. And in the history of rooting for baseball, no fans had been more devoted than Sluggers fans. Every bad bounce, every lopsided trade, every bitter loss, all were stamped onto the hearts of Sluggers fans—decade after frustrating decade— until misfortune became a part of them. Any of them could reel off a list of the team’s most famous failures. There were the Phantom Strikeout of 1907, the Snowed-Out Summer of 1934, the Triple-Play Tragedy of 1967. The first had broken the heart of Danny’s great-grandfather Zechariah Gurkin, the second had crushed the spirit of his grandpa Ebenezer, and the third still brought tears to the eyes of Danny’s parents, Harold and Lydia.


In fact, in the 108 years since an immigrant bubble-gum tycoon named Manchester E. Boddlebrooks founded the team, the Sluggers had won only one championship, and that was in their very first year. Even that glorious season, as Danny or any other Sluggers fan could tell you, was tainted by tragedy.


It all started in the smoky clubhouse after the Sluggers won the World Series. At the time, all the players wore baggy wool pants and very small caps on their heads, and the gentlemen in the stands wore fancy top hats and had pointy mustaches that curled up at the ends like bicycle handlebars. Nobody realized how silly they looked because it was so many years ago. 


Boddlebrooks wasn’t just any bubble-gum tycoon. He was the type of bubble-gum tycoon people noticed. He weighed nearly three hundred pounds and had big, bushy sideburns and a kind smile. More than anything else, Boddlebrooks loved baseball, and he loved owning the Sluggers. He handed out gum and sweets to the players after most games, and on weekends he even let them come to his mansion outside town. The mansion was painted all red, the color of Boddlebrooks’s most favorite flavor of gum, Winning-Streak Watermelon. It had a fountain in the back that spouted bubble-gum-flavored soda and a giant hot-air balloon that looked like the biggest bubble ever blown.


Everyone loved Boddlebrooks. Everyone, that is, except his younger brother, Skidmore.


Skidmore C. Boddlebrooks was thin and wiry. He always wore a black overcoat and hats that were slightly too big for him, so his eyes were hidden in shadow. In fact, nobody could ever remember seeing Skidmore Boddlebrooks’s eyes at all. He gave everyone the creeps.


Why Skidmore hated his brother so much was anybody’s guess, but most people thought it had something to do with the fact that he was violently allergic to bubble gum. Skidmore saw his brother’s sweet, chewable candies as a personal insult. The fame and riches the gum brought Manchester made it even worse.


On the night the Sluggers won the championship, as Manchester and all his players were celebrating in the clubhouse, Skidmore crept up to his brother and pulled something out from beneath his jacket.


“Here, try this,” Skidmore said, revealing an enormous doughy concoction. “It’s a new snack food I’ve been working on. I call it a pretzel.”


Now, Manchester was an educated man with a passion for junk food, so he was well aware that the pretzel had been invented more than a thousand years before by a lonely European monk named Ralph who had a lot of time on his hands. But he didn’t want to embarrass his brother by pointing that out, and he had to admit, he had never seen a pretzel like the one Skidmore had concocted, as big as a man’s face and oozing with mustard.


Years later, Skidmore’s creation would become the standard ballpark pretzel, sold by screaming teenage vendors in every ballpark around the country. Every ballpark except one, that is. Out of respect, no pretzel has ever been sold at a Sluggers game because of what happened next.


“Hmm, what a strange idea,” said Boddlebrooks, his eyes twinkling with excitement at the Sluggers’ great victory. 


But no sooner had he taken a bubble-gum-tycoon-sized bite out of the pretzel than  Boddlebrooks raised his hands to his mouth, turned purple, and fell over dead, his enormous body crashing down on young Lou Smegny, the Sluggers’ lanky star shortstop, who never played another game.


The incident came to be known as the Curse of the Poisoned Pretzel, though nobody could ever actually prove that the pretzel was poisoned. Police ruled that Manchester had simply choked on the bread. Skidmore insisted that he felt terrible about the tragedy and would make his pretzels even doughier in the future. But the rumors started almost at once. And they grew louder when Skidmore inherited the Sluggers and the rest of his bachelor brother’s fortune.


No matter how Skidmore tried to win people over, nobody ever forgave him for giving his brother the suspicious snack. The Curse followed Skidmore wherever he went, and it certainly rubbed off on his team. From the moment Manchester Boddlebrooks choked on the world’s first ballpark pretzel, the Sluggers began a string of failures never before seen by any team in any sport.


Over the next 107 years, the world saw the invention of the car and the plane and the television. Nations rose and fell. Man cured polio and created the Internet and even sent rockets into space. All this came to pass, but not once did the Sluggers win another championship.



Excerpt from Two Hot Dogs with Everything by Paul Haven, text copyright © 2006 by Paul Haven. Used by permission of Random House Children's Books, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved.   Any third party use of this material, outside of this publication, is prohibited. Interested parties must apply directly to Random House LLC for permission.









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