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OBITUARIES

Thomas G. Arthur, 84; Made Dodger Dogs a Staple of L.A. Stadium Experience

June 27, 2006|Elaine Woo | Times Staff Writer

Thomas G. Arthur, whose idea to sell a foot-long hot dog to baseball fans led to the creation of the iconic Dodger Dog, died of a heart attack June 8 in St. Louis. He was 84.

Arthur ran the food concessions at Dodger Stadium for 29 years, beginning when the venue opened in 1962. When the stadium was full, his staff could sell as many as 50,000 of the extra-long frankfurters during a game.

Items such as sushi and sandwiches came and went during his years as the Dodgers' sole purveyor of fan food; in a bout of health consciousness, he even once introduced a soy dog. But the meaty Dodger Dog was the centerpiece of the stadium menu that Arthur believed meant basically four things: soda, peanuts, beer and the super-sized hot dog in a super-sized bun.

"We look for the guy who makes up his mind on the way to the park that he's going to have a hot dog," Arthur once said, explaining his conservative approach.

When the Dodgers came to Los Angeles in 1958, they played in the Coliseum, where the food concessions were operated by Arthur's company, Arthur Food Services. Four years later, when the team moved to Dodger Stadium, Arthur wanted to add some excitement to the menu. He thought back to his Coney Island childhood when he relished eating Nathan's foot-long hot dogs and decided to borrow the idea.

"The Dodger Dog was Tom's idea," said Peter O'Malley, whose family owned the Dodgers for 40 years.

"He called it the foot-long dog, but it was actually only 10 inches," recalled Steve Arthur, one of four children who survive the former ballpark food supplier, along with 12 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. "He got a few snide comments from people that it was really not a foot long. That's when he got the idea to call it a Dodger Dog."

It was manufactured by the Morrell meat company and later by Farmer John, one of the Dodgers' chief sponsors.

Arthur was born in Los Angeles but grew up in New York City. His father owned theaters in the Midwest and East, including, briefly, the Roxy in New York City.

Arthur graduated from Principia College in Illinois before enlisting in the Army Air Forces in 1942. He became a B-24 navigator and flew 50 missions over North Africa and Europe during World War II.

He dreamed of becoming a cartoonist or illustrator and after the war returned to Los Angeles, where he studied briefly at Art Center College of Design and the USC School of Architecture.

To make a living, he started supplying vending machines to theaters and aircraft plants. With a family to support, Arthur gave up on art and concentrated on business.

In 1955, he won his first contract with a sports venue, the Coliseum, which he served until 1976. He also had concessions at the Los Angeles Sports Arena and Chicago's Wrigley Field. In the early 1960s, he also owned the Grenadier, a restaurant on the Sunset Strip, where he put his key stadium staff to work when baseball was not in season. He sold it after a few years.

Arthur had his longest run at Dodger Stadium, where he not only supplied the food to the fans in the bleachers but to the well-heeled spectators in the more elite Stadium Club.

He also drew the sketches and other artwork for the menus.

There were few complaints over the years, but the most memorable came one day in the early 1960s when Arthur's company was a subsidiary of ABC Consolidated Corp. A movie producer sitting in a pricey dugout-level seat called him and immediately handed the phone to one of his guests. The distinctively refined voice on the line belonged to one of Hollywood's best-known actors.

"This is Cary Grant," the voice said, "and I'm a stockholder in ABC and I have a complaint: You don't have enough grill space down here for the hot dogs."

Arthur quickly went to the dugout area and installed a large grill. "All our sales went up," he recalled years later in the Daily News. He told the story to show that everyone, from average Joes to celebrities, liked hot dogs with their baseball.

By 1990, however, Arthur's hot-dog-centric recipe for success was under siege.

Other stadiums had diversified their menus with ethnic cuisine, including Japanese, Chinese and Mexican fare, and Dodger management believed their fans wanted some new food choices too.

But updating the menu meant costly upgrades in equipment, which Arthur could not afford.

He retired from the business, and in 1991 a large food service corporation became Dodger Stadium's concessionaire.

O'Malley said he had no doubt that Arthur's inspiration -- the Dodger Dog -- is the reason Dodger Stadium has for years topped the charts in at least one category: the number of hot dogs eaten annually at major league ballparks.

In 2005, it was No. 1 with nearly 1.7 million hot dogs consumed. Wrigley Field and Denver's Coors Field trailed with about 1.5 million, according to the latest figures compiled by the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council.

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