February 07, 2005
Glory to the Peanut Man
by Jon Weisman
George Washington Carver and Jimmy Carter might head the list
of famous Americans associated with the peanut. But perhaps the only person made
famous by the peanut is Roger Owens.
More than 40 years ago, Owens was selling peanuts in the stands during Dodger
Stadium’s opening season when he found the path to a customer obstructed. What
happened next is a magical part of Dodger lore … and the centerpiece of a new
book by Daniel S. Green, The
Perfect Pitch: The Biography of Roger Owens, The Famous Peanut Man at Dodger
That’s right - a biography of Roger Owens. I have to say I was
a little surprised that one existed, even more so when I saw that it clocked in
at 325 pages of text and images. Anyone - including this site’s readers, more
than a few of whom probably have a “Peanut Man” memory to share and, like me,
will smile big at the sight of these photos - could be forgiven for thinking
that even the most interesting vendor in the history of American sport could be
summed up in a nice magazine article.
But Owens does have a story. Born on Valentine’s Day, 1943 in Glendale, Owens
was the son of a minister and the oldest of nine children who grew up in poverty
that helped drive his mother to a sanatorium and the siblings to foster care for
a period of years. As a member of the National Guard in 1969, a Jeep accident in
which he was a passenger forced Owens into emergency brain surgery to save his
life. This happened a year after Owens’ father, Ross, was shot point-blank in
the chest, only to have the religious tracts in his coat pocket stop the bullet.
(A Times article documents the event.)
These and other traumas mingle with the fun tale of Owens’
peanut-throwing exploits and improbable celebrity, which brought him appearances
on The Tonight Show as well as stadia around the world and introduced him
to his first wife (whom he sold a bag of peanuts when she was 13). His unique
career also brought him joy and friendship on a scale many of us might not
You could say that you haven’t truly experienced Dodger Stadium unless you’ve
caught a bag of nimbly tossed peanuts by Owens - behind the back, under the leg,
or via the “double-bagger” (a single toss that sends two different bags to two
different people). That makes me a little sad, because I haven’t. Owens usually
works the third-base side of the park, and of the roughly 1,000 Dodger games
that I have attended, probably all but 10 or so have been on the right side of
the diamond. If and when Owens reaches me, I’m all full up.
That being said, I do remember getting peanuts from Owens during Ram games at
the Coliseum in the 1970s, placing him on my consciousness lo these many
decades. And he’s one of those quietly spellbinding figures that if he didn’t
already exist, you’d have been pretty proud to invent.
According to The Perfect Pitch, it all began for Owens,
as a 15-year-old in 1958. Owens showed up well before game time during the
Dodgers’ first season in Los Angeles, much like a day laborer, in the hopes of
being selected for just the chance to sell anything in the stands at the
Coliseum. For months he was denied, but finally he was allowed to work his way
up the vendor food chain, from soft drinks to ice cream to finally, as Green
writes, “the bags of salted gold.”
Green is Owens’ nephew, and at times, his enthusiasm for Uncle Roger carries
his writing away (not that mine hasn’t fallen victim to such flights myself).
Describing an earlier job Owens had working at a newsstand, Green writes,
“Before going to work, he would quietly stare at the dark, gray strip of
boulevard. He was entranced with the torn newspapers flying down the forsaken
streets, and with how the wind howled an octave higher than poverty’s loud
mockery of everyone that lived there.”
Faith is also an integral part to the Owens story, and while as a religious
work the book is on the mild side, Green clearly has a goal to place Owens’ life
in a spiritual or testimonial context. That’s not to say that Owens is portrayed
in any way as the Second Coming, but that his humility, along with his
dedication and selflessness and even occasional missteps and depression, are
themselves as important to Green as Owens’ peanut purveyance itself. Broadly
speaking, it’s a Horatio Alger story with occasional surprises (such as the
nonchalant treatment of the news that Owens’ first wife was 17 years old when he
married her, an event that either reflects vestiges of a different era or an
implicit “not-that-there’s-anything-wrong-with-that” philosophy).
So, there are moments where Green’s pride in his family takes
over, as in this description of Owens’ mother: “Mary Owens was a selfless woman
who fought desperate times to raise a family in poverty, but she became a
warrior in the Faith in her later years, becoming one of the Godliest women ever
to be shaped by the Master Potter’s hands.” But beyond that lies the reason that
Owens’ story is worth this hefty a book. In between the occasional soft-shoe
preaching, there is a story you don’t see every day: of what makes an ordinary
man extraordinary. The distance between The Perfect Pitch and the
mega-bestseller, Tuesdays with Morrie, is probably less than one might
It doesn’t hurt if your subject knows how to write poetry with a peanut toss
Roger just finished handing a bag to a customer when he
turned around at the cry of another fan several rows away. More people now made
their way down the stairs, carefully reading the ticket stubs for their row and
seat number. Suddenly, they stood still, obstructing the travel path of a simple
toss to the seated customer, who was yelling a second and third time for his
peanuts. Young Roger stayed calm and instinctively surveyed the situation.
He couldn’t put too high of an arch on the toss, because he noticed how the
concrete rafter above, from the next highest level of stadium seating, was not
high enough to allow a throw like that.
Some fans were already seated and, sensing the tension of the moment, they
sat there grinning devilishly, as if watching a show. They sat back comfortably,
but with undivided attention, to see what this young peanut vendor would do
about the situation.
Before panic set it, he whimsically and nonchalantly poised the bag of
peanuts to throw behind his back in one sweeping motion and let it fly.
The bag soared with a slight curve to it, sailing past the indecisive
roadblock of people that caused the dilemma, and into the waiting hands of the
“Hey. That was cool,” the customer said in amazement, holding the bag in his
Owens will be back at Dodger Stadium this year, which gives me another chance
to get my first behind-the-back ballpark peanuts from him. Good deal. He is a
rare treasure of the ballpark, and after reading The Perfect Pitch, I
have greater appreciation of him than ever.
Bottom photo by John Gannon. Woman pictured with the Owens
children in the fourth photo is foster mother Edith Beatty. All photos courtesy
of Daniel S. Green.Posted on Feb
Gosh I am thinking that Will Ferell would be perfect at playing this guy and
they can do a very funny movie! Imagine all the cool stuff they could do. The
end of the movie would be Farell/Owens saving the day:
Playoff game and the dodgers are the cinderella story. The dodgers werent
even picked to come in third place in their own division after winning the NL
west the year before. Sportwriters from across the land come to rip on
Depodesta, McCourt and Moneyball. They ask Depo why they would trade LoDuca and
risk with team chemistry. They remind depo that Beltre was 10th in the league in
AL MVP voting.
It's the 5th inning of a 3-3 game 7. There are 2 out. Dodgers are in the
field. Winner plays the LA Angels of Anaheim.
Like a blur, out of the stands comes owens to save the day.
You see, Owens spotted in advance what we all couldnt see. Milton Bradley was
By our own fans no less.
Have no fear, Roger Owens is here.
Bradley then leads ff the next inning. Izz bunts him over, Drew is walked.
Kent is walked after fouling 9 pitches off. Choi takes lidge to a full count.
Choi walks. Dodgers win the pennant.
Bradley and Owens and Choi are 3 way MVP of NL championship Series.
Owens finally get the girl of his dreams that night after pushing aside
Playboy material hottie with bad attitude.
What does my wife remember from her first Dodger game? Getting a bag of
peanuts from a perfect behind-the-back toss. Can't say as I blame her.
I did not know anything about the guy who tossed her the bag of peanuts but I
know a lot more about him now (yeah, it's the same guy).
After reading this, I am more convinced than ever that Bill Dwyre does not
read Dodger Thoughts. If he did, there would be no more Dodger Thoughts 'cuz Jon
would be at the Times. Great stuff, Jon.
Sounds like good winter reading. Thanks for the tip Jon.
Anyone know the peanut guy that resembles Jamie Farr that screams "Nuts,
Nuts, Nuts" at the top of his lungs?
Yeah, I know whom you speak of, Big.
Actually, I can't believe I haven't told my favorite Dodger Stadium peanut
story yet. I searched the archives but didn't find it. I may have to save it for
a separate entry.
Big, the "Nuts! Nuts! Nuts!" guy is Richard Aller. hes a High School teacher,
or was one, im not sure if he is anymore.
I remember a guy in the 70's selling programs on the field level with a very
hi-pitched voice "get yer SOUVenir PROgram!)
Yeah, Richard still teaches. There are actually many teachers that work as
peanut vendors at dodger stadium. Fits their schedule well.
Terrific article, as usual, Jon. I got my copy of "The Perfect Pitch" last
summer, but life has done a number on my reading habits-- down about 75% from
what I'd like-- so I haven't yet read it myself. But I did get the man to sign
my copy last year, and he was quite happy to do so. He even stopped down for a
picture with my four-year-old daughter and has always had a kind word or a joke
whenever we see him. I first encountered Roger's prodigious peanut-hurling skill
when I won a season's worth of seats on the loge level in a little league raffle
back in 1997-- in addition to being on the receiving end of some pretty keen
tosses myself, I once saw him stand at the front of the section with a bag in
each hand and send each missile sailing in opposite directions behind his back,
getting direct hits on both intended targets. Ever since that summer, I've often
bought a bag just to see that perfect pitch and have it directed toward me.
Thanks for reminding us all of one of the human reasons Dodger Stadium remains
such a special place.
Grant High basketball coach Howie Levine still works as an usher, I
By the way, don't thank me for this spotlight on Roger Owens - thank Daniel
I had a teacher in 8th grade who also moonlighted as one of the security
personnel at Dodger stadium, the guys that wear the hats. He would regale our
class with tales of beating up drunks in private in the elevator, while taking
them to a jail cell in the stadium. From there they were taken down to downtown
to spend the night. In his words the downtown jail was the worst place on earth,
so the punishment was quite severe for just being a drunk.
One time at an Angel/Dodger exhibition game at Angel stadium, the peanut guy
in my area would say "I hate my job" over and over instead of "Peanuts". I
thought it was funny.
I've seen the "Nuts nuts nuts nuts nuts"-guy. Wierd thing though, he doesn't
sell peanuts, he doesn't even work there.
I've seen the "Nuts nuts nuts nuts nuts"-guy. Wierd thing though, he doesn't
sell peanuts, he doesn't even work there.
My family had tickets in the loge section from 1962-on. Aisle 149 then 153.
First row. Our peanut man? Roger Owens. Back then, the double bags were yellow
and red. I think they went for a quarter. My Dad would give me a buck for the
game and I'd get a hot dog (35 cents), a bag of peanuts (25 cents), and a frozen
chocolate malt (I'm thinking 30 cents). I probably pocketed the remaining 10
See, it's funny. We were directly opposite from you, Rich - and we never saw
Owens. It wasn't until we got to our current seats that we started to get a
glimpse of him late in the games. But in the 1970s, before we had Dodger
tickets, we had Ram tickets - in fact, my Dad's family got them when they moved
from Chicago around 1951, when he was 16. When I went, we sat at or around the
40-yard line and saw Owens often, if I recall correctly.
Green makes a big deal in the book about how it used to be a big part of the
job to field the return toss of the quarter - that it was almost as difficult or
more difficult than the peanut toss. I guess dollar bills changed that.
I miss the double-bagger peanuts.
Which guy was the one who got fired a few years back for selling his own
peanuts (Each vendor gets some free bags they can eat or take home. He was
selling them and keeping the profits.) They rehired him after public outcry. Was
that the "nuts nuts nuts" guy, or the guy from this article?
Speaking of the Rams football games and other games at the Coliseum
(including USC football and Dodger baseball), do you all remember the guy who
looked like a relative of Uncle Fester hawking programs? He would shout, "Get
your soooo-veneer program" in a very loud, distinguishable voice while holding
the program in his left hand and motioning downward in cadence as he repeated
I saw him at a game just a couple of years ago. Must have been in his 70s.
Don't know what became of him.
I understand what you mean with Will Ferrell, Jason, but I look at that All
American Peanuts shot and I can only think, Charles Grodin.
Some wise man suggested a 1950s Tony Dow as the young Roger Owens, but I lack
skills to assess the reference.
I remember the "Get your soooo-veneer program" guy from the Coliseum very
well, although I have not seen him since 1982 at the latest. I am surprised that
someone saw him as recently as a couple of years ago. I remember being unable to
stop laughing every time I heard him make that call.
I also miss the double bagger. It was just the perfect amount of peanuts. The
$5 bag they sell now is too big and usually makes me sick (although that does
not stop me from eating the whole thing anyway).
Well remember Roger, at the stadium, only works
the left field/third base
side of the loge level.
That covers approximately from the dodger bullpen to
homeplate. So anyone on the right side of the field wouldn't see him in that
Roger told me he remembers one vendor who, during
the quarter tossing days
of peanut sales, used
to throw a tennis ball cut to look like a piggy bank.
The customer would insert the quarters into
the tennis ball and throw it
back. Roger, however, said he just preferred catching the quarters out of the
As more attention is given to the book, thanks even more to Jon, there has
been interest in making it into a film, but no deals or options just yet. It's
funny though some of you have mentioned the noticeable resemblance to Will
Farrell, mainly during the 1970's. But would Will
be able to handle some of
the more dramatic events such as the military jeep accident, or pull off a
younger looking Roger??
One possiblity is Matt Damon. Some might disagree, but he does have a
has the dramatic and comedy acting chops to pull
Call me idealistic, but Nia Vardulos
from big fat greek wedding could easily
Roger's Italian mother. As for Ross, Gene Hackman
would add plenty of
depth to the strict but caring Baptist father.
Did I forget to spell idealistic with a capital "I"??
That wise man suggested in sam's post was
about right on the money. Roger
like Tony Dow in the 1950's/early 60's. Tony Dow
Wally from Leave it to Beaver.
In fact, that was Roger's nickname, for a
Another interesting tidbit, there was supposed
to be a movie done on
Roger's life about 30 years ago, possibly starring Beau Bridges or Roger Caan. I
don't see it, and glad it wasn't done. Besides, so much more has been added to
the story since then.
the surgeon who saved Roger's life in 1969
has just recently heard about
the book from what
I've heard from Roger. Dr. Schorn's cousin saw Roger
recently and told him he'd send the 80-something retired doctor.
Roger is celebrating his birthday and 1st wedding anniversary on valentine's
day. He says
he did that so he has no excuse in forgetting his anniversary.
He is going to appear in a quick scene for an
upcoming Disney show. Look
for his site for more on that.
I think I speak on behalf of all of us when I say "thank you" for that visit,
Yo - regarding Aller, I remember an article that came out several years back
in the Times. I find him HILARIOUS. The "Nuts, nuts" chants rank high up there
in my childhood memories at Dodger Stadium. Of course like any good peanut
vendor, he's still there selling nuts. He'll almost always make a hilarious
comment to you if you try to start a conversation.
Now who could be that "wise man" who suggested Tony Dow ... ?
Anyone notice the change in the Google ads above from Dodgers to boiled
Speaking of Dodger peanut vendors...
There was an old-timer that worked seemingly every sporting event in town.
The last time I saw him at the Rose Bowl (around 2001) he looked at least
He had a rapid chant of "PeanutPeanutPeanut" almost as if he was calling a
horse race. But what always killed me was that around the 7th or 8th inning at
Dodger games, to drum up peanut sales, he used to chant, "PeanutPeanutPeanut!
Cover up the Beer Breath!" This always cracked me up, no matter how many times I
heard him say it...
He used to work not only the Rose Bowl, Dodger Stadium (in the 90s he worked
Field Box seats toward the foul pole) but The Forum as well, as I saw him at
many Kings games doing his schtick in Inglewood.
Never knew his name, but when I saw him at the Rose Bowl at a Bruin football
game he looked like he was on his last bag...
Ring any bells with anybody?
Yes, the "peanut, peanut, peanut" guy looked a bit like Grandpa in The
Munsters. I saw him a few years ago.
Aller was a teacher at Compton HS. His favorite movie is Shawshank
Redemption. Ask him about it if you have 30 or 40 minutes to spare.
Ah, Rich, you stole my story. Never had a peanut vendor like the one who sold
me peanuts, then came up close and said, "You ever see 'The Shawshank
Redemption?' That movie changed my life. 'Get busy living - or get busy dying.'
... Peanut peanut peanut!" ...
One story, as mentioned in the book, came from
an L.A. Times staff writer
from 1976. Roger remembers it because the fan was a bit of a ham,
prod Roger into tossing peanut bag after peanut bag. Finally, when the guy asked
for one more, Roger tore open a bag and took
out a lone peanut and threw it
nine rows and right into the guy's open mouth. According
to the columnist,
Roger of course got a standing ovation.
Another story, like many stories, is one that Roger remembers after writing
the book. At the stadium, a rather well-endowed woman with less than
well-endowed hand-eye coordination clapped her hands, missing completely the
by Roger at her.
They landed quite snuggly in, well, where else, The lady blushed as red as
the round Coke sign in the outfield, and she couldn't stop laughing.
Immediately, some college-aged guys sitting nearby dropped to their knees and
bowed down a la Wayne Garth and chanted "We're not worthy. We're not
that would be wayne and garth. sometimes the "&"
does come in
I'm telling you, if you really want to see Aller get going tell him
Secrateriat was the best race horse ever--and stick to your guns. You might be
sorry you tried this little experiment but he will tell (yell) you in painful
detail why you are wrong. He might even accidentally spit on you as he froths at
the mouth but he will stop yelling "NUTS" for a moment. This guy has forgotten
more about racing then Mieszerski and Simmers will ever know.
Sorry, that was me.
Also Jon, for all the interest you generate, the
Dodgers should comp you club seats.
BTW, has anyone ever sat in the dugout club seats? are they nice--worth it?
Something about $200 for a baseball does not seem right, but if the Lakes can
get it why should'nt the Dodgers.
My first thought when they got rid of the double-bagger was how the new bags
would affect Roger. My best memory of him is a few years back at the California
League All Star game in Adelanto. All the teams sent their mascots but the
Bakersfield Dodgers didn't have a mascot so the Dodgers sent Roger. He stole the
show. I might have thought it would be a drag to travel to the middle of the
desert to be part of a group of mostly high school students dressed in bull,
squirrel and dinosaur costumes. But Roger said he loved it. He's got a lot of
Thanks to Daniel for stating where Rodger worked. My family usually bought
tickets for the right field bleachers or the top deck. That's all we can afford.
That's a big reason why I don't remember him clearly, but I guess his influence
rubbed off on the other guys in those sections. "Programs here!"