Paul Fagan: The Owner Who Banned Peanuts From the Ball Park

During the 1950s, San Francisco Seals were the most fortunate players in baseball. Paul Fagan, their generous owner, spared no expense to make his squad comfortable. During that era, the Seals had stars-to-be like Ferris Fain, Gene Woodling, Lew Burdette and Larry Jansen to name a few.

Under manager Lefty O’ Doul’s direction, the Seals often (though not always) fielded competitive teams. Fagan, hoping to make the Pacific Coast League the third major league to join with the American and National, kept an eye out for the best players. When he took over the Seals in 1946, Fagan said to previous owner Charlie Graham, “I only know two baseball names—Bob Feller and Joe DiMaggio. I don’t know what they will cost. I want ‘em.”

One of the most innovative minds in baseball, Fagan introduced concession stands, upgraded the Seals Stadium ladies room with a million dollar investment and built a spring training facility on Maui. Fagan, whose personal fortune came from his family’s banking businesses and Hawaii real estate made sure his players always traveled first class. The Seals even had large sleeping quarters, a spacious dining area and a soda fountain where they could get ice cream at any time.

On Maui, Seals’ pitcher Cliff Melton developed his famous “Aloha” pitch, a variation of his outstanding sinker that once helped him win 20 games for the 1937 New York Giants.

Given Fagan’s well known propensity to spend money lavishly, the baseball world was shocked when one day in 1950 he declared that peanuts would no longer be sold at Seals Stadium. Apparently overcome by his banker’s green eye shade approach to profit and loss, on February 16, 1950 Fagan issued this announcement:

We lose five cents on every bag of peanuts sold in the ballpark. That’s $20,000 a year. It costs us 7 1/2 cents to pick up the husks and our profit on a dime bag is just 2 1/2 cents. The goober has to go.

Irate fans lit up the Seals’ phone lines with their protests. Some threatened to bring their own peanuts and drop the offending shells everywhere. Newspapers along the West Coast jumped to the peanut’s defense. The Los Angeles Herald Express editorialized:

To many deep, dyed-in-the-wool fans, it was just like ripping the heart out of baseball itself. The privilege of buying, shelling and eating peanuts at the ball game is just too sacred.

Fagan’s only support came from entrepreneurial types who saw an opportunity to sell peanuts outside the stadium to disgruntled fans.

In the end, the objections overwhelmed Fagan. Within 24 hours Fagan issued his second peanut-related press release:

I give up. Mr. Peanut wins. It’s the first time in my life I’ve been beaten and it had to be by a peanut.

By opening day, the peanut had been restored to Fagan’s good graces. Fagan even appeased the president of the National Peanut Council who had charged him with manufacturing a peanut publicity stunt to generate free media for the Seals.

In an interesting non-peanut note, the 1950 Seals ended up its season with one of the most curious records in baseball history: 100-100.

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