The subject of the dispute is peanuts--$2 worth.
Which is why his fans at Dodger Stadium say the firing of one of the park’s most venerable characters seems so nutty.
Peanut vendor Richard Aller, whose gravel-voiced cry of “Nuts!” has echoed through the ballpark since the day it opened, complains that he has been kicked out for misappropriation of peanuts at the stadium.
Specifically, he says, he purchased two bags of salted goobers at a discount from a pair of fellow vendors who had gotten them free as part of their lunch allotment. Then he resold them to fans for a profit.
He says the concessionaire, who dismissed him one month ago today, considers that against the rules.
That has prompted cries of “Foul!” from fans in Dodger Stadium’s blue reserved level, who say Aller’s noisy, good-naturedly caustic style is part of the joy of visiting the ballpark.
“People get season tickets just to be in his section,” said Myron Rosenaur, a lighting contractor who lives in Encino.
Jo Stephen, a secretary from San Dimas, said: “His hollering and his humor makes even a bad game good.”
Aller, 54, of Lakewood, acknowledges that he violated regulations by buying peanuts from other vendors and reselling them. But he contends that the punishment hardly fits the crime.
“I can see being warned not to do it again, or maybe suspended for five or six games. But I can’t see being fired after 38 years for one offense.”
Officials of Aramark Corp., the stadium concessionaire, declined to discuss what they described as a “personnel matter,” saying only that the issue could eventually be the subject of arbitration with Aller’s union, Local 11 of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union.
A union official confirmed that Aller had been fired over the peanut infraction.
Fans, meanwhile, have begun lobbying Aramark to take Aller back. And about 50 other stadium vendors have signed a petition asking the same thing.
On Thursday, it appeared that the dispute might force the Dodgers themselves to step to the plate.
“We will take a look at it,” Bob Graziano, executive vice president of the ballclub, said of the firing. “We will work with Aramark and review it.”
Aller, a Compton High School history teacher, started by hawking sodas at Dodger games at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in 1959 at age 16 to help pay family expenses after his father suffered a heart attack.
He sells about 300 bags of peanuts per game--enough to earn about $13,000 a year--and he hawks ice cream and fruit bars at the Sports Arena.
Fans consider him a loud, wise-cracking version of Roger Owens, the famed behind-the-back-peanut-bag-tossing vendor who has appeared on network television.
“Roger’s a national celebrity,” said Aller. “I’m just a local nut.”
His shrill “Nuts!” scream can be heard throughout the third-tier area between home and third as he tosses peanut bags and hurls friendly barbs at fans.
Aller said he was working in his normal area--Aisles 1-17--when the peanut incident occurred near the start of the April 9 Dodgers-Mets game.
Two recently hired vendors bounded down the steps and offered to sell him two unopened bags of peanuts they had obtained with their $7.25 Aramark meal vouchers, Aller said. By buying them for $2 each, Aller could make a $2 profit by selling them to fans for $3 each.
“I didn’t even think about it and said yes,” Aller said. “A supervisor was watching and he wrote me up.”
A concessions manager interviewed Aller on April 19 when he returned to work for the next homestand. Four days later, Aller and the other two vendors were fired.
Stephen, the San Dimas fan, said she saw Aller walk out of the stadium for the last time.
“I’ve never seen anybody looking so dejected,” she said.
“He usually is such an entertainer, such a part of the whole game experience. Even if the game isn’t good, you can rely on Richard coming around every few innings and cheering you up.”
Aller’s co-workers circulated a petition May 3 calling for his return to work.
“Fans have been asking, ‘Where’s Richard?’ ” noted the petition--signed by about 50 other vendors.
“It was a misuse of the meal ticket policy. We’re supposed to only get food we can eat,” said petition-signer Mort Rose of Culver City. “But a lot of guys do it. The punishment is so out of line for what Richard did.”
Rose, like Aller a Dodgers vendor since 1959, has been selling peanuts in Aller’s section for the past few weeks.
“People miss him and his enthusiasm--his ‘Nuts! Nuts! Nuts!’ He’ll have the whole section going some nights.”
Added Encino season ticket-holder Rosenaur: “He’s a hard-working nut, and I say that with a smile. They should have given him a warning if he did something wrong. For him to have been made an example of like that is a travesty. It’s appalling.”
Local 11 union lead organizer Manuel Pascaul said the baseball season could be over before an arbitration hearing into Aller’s firing is held.
“It could be solved today if the company would come to its senses,” he said. “This is outrageous.”
As for Aller, he said he has learned his lesson. “Buying bags from other vendors for resale is a major violation,” he said.
Only a nut, he said, would think otherwise.