He made his name throwing peanuts at Dodgers games. Now that’s a no-no

Cotter, Christine –– – LOS ANGELES, CA, SEPTEMBER 1, 2009– Roger Owens, a peanut seller at Dodger Stadium for 50 years, tosses bags of peanuts to fans at Dodger Stadium with pinpoint accuracy on 9/1/2009.  (Christine Cotter/Los Angeles Times)

Roger Owens, shown in 2009, has been a peanut seller at Dodgers games since they played at the Colosseum. (Christine Cotter/Los Angeles Times)

You can look up at the broadcast booth at Dodger Stadium, but you won’t see Vin Scully there no more. next year, you won’t see Jaime Jarrín over there.

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

And, off the list of vanishing Dodger Stadium traditions, this is just this: You can buy a bag of peanuts from Roger Owens, but he can’t throw the bag at you anymore.

This is an “Only in LA” story: the celebrity peanut seller who can throw a bag of peanuts behind his back or between his legs.

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

“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 hit with a baseball.”

Roger Owens throws bags of peanuts at fans with pinpoint accuracy in 2009.

Roger Owens throws a bag of peanuts at a fan during a game at Dodger Stadium in 2009. (Christine Cotter/Los Angeles Times)

Owens still throws peanuts at the lodge level, for fans who have become friends over the decades. Several of those fans reached out to The Times to say that Owens has been ordered to stop throwing bags of peanuts.

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

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

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

At Dodger Stadium, he is an attraction in itself. He’s been throwing peanuts since the stadium opened, in 1962, and before that at the Colosseum.

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

Levy Restaurants manages the concessions at Dodger Stadium. When fans asked him why he couldn’t throw his peanuts any longer, Owens said he was told by representatives of Levy that the decision was made for the safety of the fans. Indeed, that’s what the fans who contacted The Times said Owens told them.

Owens is not defiant. He is sad.

He doesn’t want to argue with Levy or the Dodgers. He loves his job. He’s just struggling to understand why a bag of peanuts is a problem.

“They have time to see it coming,” Owens said. “It’s not some bullet going right through it. I always want to make sure whoever I throw at will catch the bag of peanuts.

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

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

Levy spokesperson Kevin Memolo did not respond, nor did any of the two Levy representatives Owens said he had met.

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

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

To the extent that legal liability could be involved, Levy and the Dodgers argued in court that fans assume all risks of attending a game.

In a case where a fan filed a lawsuit for being injured by hot coffee spilled on him at a concession stand, Levy and the Dodgers last year cited ticket language that exempts entities from liability for incidents “prior to, during, or after, the actual playing of the game, including but not limited to the danger of being injured by players, other fans, thrown bats or parts thereof, thrown or struck balls or other objects or projectiles.”

That language also occurs in the Dodgers’ 2022 Ticket Agreement† A thrown peanut bag, you might say, is a projectile.

In at least two cases – in 1976 and 1985 – peanut throwing bans were introduced and when withdrawn.

It’s not about Owens’ identity as a peanut jar, even though his biography is called “The Perfect Pitch” and his email address contains the words “peanut man”. It’s about a small human connection in this big city, forged between one man and dozens of peanut-loving lodge-level fans.

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

I hope he and Levy and the Dodgers can reach an agreement that will stop other salespeople from imitating him and let him finish his career in his familiar style. Owens is 79 years old. He has earned a grandfather clause.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times

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