Commentary: He made a name tossing peanuts at Dodgers games. That’s a no-no now

Roger Owens, shown in 2009, has been a peanut vendor at Dodgers games since they played at the Coliseum.
(Christine Cotter/Los Angeles Times)
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You can look up to the broadcast booth at Dodger Stadium, but you won’t see Vin Scully there any more. Next year, you won’t see Jaime Jarrín there.

You can buy a Dodger Dog, but Farmer John doesn’t make them any more.

And, from the list of disappearing Dodger Stadium traditions, this just in: You can buy a bag of peanuts from Roger Owens, but he can’t throw the bag to you any more.

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This is an “Only in L.A.” story: the celebrity peanut vendor who can toss a bag of peanuts behind his back, or between his legs.

Owens has pitched peanuts at presidential inauguration festivities, on “The Tonight Show,” and in two movies and three television series in which his role was always the same: peanut vendor. His wedding guests included Tom Bradley, then the mayor of Los Angeles, and Don Sutton, the Dodgers’ Hall of Fame pitcher.

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“I would have trouble hitting a wall 15 feet away if I tried to throw a bag of peanuts behind my back,” Sutton told The Times in 1976. “It’s definitely easier to throw strikes with a baseball.”

(Courtesy of Roger Owens)

Owens still is pitching peanuts on the loge level, to fans who have become friends over the decades. Several of those fans reached out to The Times to say Owens has been ordered not to throw bags of peanuts any more.

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Just hand them to the customer, please. The show has gone dark.

I called Owens to see if this could possibly be true. Yes, he said, it is.

“I’m so heartbroken about this,” he said.

At Dodger Stadium, he is an attraction in itself. He has pitched peanuts since the stadium opened, in 1962, and at the Coliseum before then.

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Old fans urge him to show off his tricks to new fans. Adults buy a bag so Owens can toss it to a kid. Smiles all around.

Levy Restaurants runs the concessions at Dodger Stadium. If fans asked why he could no longer pitch his peanuts, Owens said he was told by Levy representatives to say the decision was made for the safety of the fans. That, indeed, is what the fans who reached out to The Times said Owens had told them.

Owens is not defiant. He is sad.
He does not want to pick a fight with Levy, or the Dodgers. He loves his job. He just struggles to understand why a bag of peanuts is a problem.

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“They have time to see it coming,” Owens said. “It’s not some bullet that goes straight through. I’m always wanting to make sure that whoever I am throwing to will catch the bag of peanuts.

“I want them to catch it, because they feel a sense of accomplishment.”

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I asked Levy to explain the reason for the change, and in particular the timing, since Owens has been tossing peanuts for decades. I asked whether Levy had considered any possible compromise, perhaps a maximum distance for Owens’ tosses. I asked whether Levy was aware of any injuries caused by flying peanut bags.

Levy spokesman Kevin Memolo did not respond, and neither did either of the two Levy representatives with whom Owens said he met.

I asked the Dodgers what they had heard from fans about the change, whether the team had to agree to it, and whether the team had tried to facilitate a possible compromise.

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Dodgers spokesmen Steve Brener and Joe Jareck each did not respond.

To the extent legal liability might be at issue, Levy and the Dodgers have argued in court that fans assume all risks of attending a game.

In a case in which a fan sued because he was injured by hot coffee spilling on him at a concession stand, Levy and the Dodgers last year cited ticket language that releases the entities from liability from incidents “prior to, during, or subsequent to, the actual playing of the game, including but not limited to the danger of being injured by players, other fans, thrown bats or portions thereof, thrown or batted balls or other objects or projectiles.”

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That language also appears in the Dodgers’ 2022 ticket agreement. A thrown peanut bag, one could argue, is a projectile.

In at least two instances — in 1976 and 1985 — bans on throwing peanuts were introduced and then rescinded.

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It is not about Owens’ identity as a peanut pitcher, even if his biography is called “The Perfect Pitch” and his email address includes the words “peanut man.” It is about a small human connection in this big city, forged between one man and decades of peanut-loving fans on the loge level.

“Pitching peanuts to the fans brings a lot of joy and happiness,” Owens said. “This joy and happiness hasn’t been there.”

Here’s hoping he and Levy and the Dodgers can reach an agreement that restricts other vendors from imitating him and lets him close his career in his familiar style. Owens is 79 years old. He has earned a grandfather clause.

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