A Farewell to the Oakland Coliseum's Quirky, Lovable Hot Dog Vendor

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A's fans standing with hot dog vendor, Hal Gordon, at the Oakland Coliseum
KQED writer Alan Chazaro (left), stands with Hal Gordon (left center) and friends in 2021. (Kumar Butlar)

The Oakland Athletics are used to the departure of big personalities: Reggie Jackson. Rickey Henderson. Barry Zito. Yoenis Cespedes.

Yet it’s not always the big-name players whom fans are saddest to see go.

Next season, Hal Gordon — better known as “Hal the Hot Dog Guy” — will not return as the stadium’s most well-known food vendor. Gordon first shared the news on Twitter to his loyal cadre of fans last week, announcing his decision to depart from the A’s after six seasons. As a graduate student in the process of earning his PhD in Economics at UC Berkeley, Gordon will transition away from the role that has brought him local fame and adoration: hawking hot dogs and being a friendly jokester.

Along with his well-known shticks, like shouting “Let’s ketchup!” in late innings whenever the A’s were losing, Gordon also cared for the fans and the city, often bringing his own array of extra condiments that are otherwise unavailable at the Coliseum — such as jalapeño mustard and capers — and supporting local charities by donating a portion of his tips.

Since he’s working to complete his degree, Gordon had been hoping that the A’s would hire him long-term at closer to the salary that a PhD economist would make — perhaps as the team’s in-house data scientist. But he knew it was a long shot.

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“Creating this character and hearing people tell me I’ve become part of their experience [at the Coliseum] was just something that kept me going during grad school,” Gordon says. “I get it, I understand [the A’s] are in a tough spot. I was never an employee of the team. I’m the employee of a subcontractor. I’m sure the organization is more worried about keeping employees who have been there much longer than me. I gave my all and it just couldn’t be.”

Fans have resorted to tweeting out their frustration, even asking A’s owner, Dave Kaval, to reconsider.

For those who have no connection to the Oakland A’s community, it may seem farcical to see fans getting so emotional about losing a food vendor. But if you’ve sat in the Coliseum, endured the recent onslaught of ridicule and scrutiny in the media and ridden the rollercoaster of on-field disappointment that the Oakland A’s have embarrassingly served up, then you’d know how it feels to be losing out on a rare bright spot — even if it’s something as seemingly unremarkable as a fun-loving, community-focused hot dog server.

Gordon isn’t the first beloved doggie slinger to win the hearts of green and gold fans. In 2019, Jimmy Graff, whom Gordon praised as his mentor and inspiration, passed away at age 49, leaving the A’s community distraught. In his place, Gordon rose in popularity and proudly continued Graff’s legacy as a goofy, carefree and passionate vendor — even dressing up in an old-timey striped uniform that Graff created — at one of Major League Baseball’s notoriously “worst” venues.

Despite the many flaws inside East Oakland’s dilapidated baseball cathedral, it’s the diehard fans and workers like Gordon — as well as Graff and many others before them — who have kept the experience vibrant over the years. This season, in particular, Gordon’s well-known love for hot dogs and pranks has given attendees something to look forward to in an otherwise dismal campaign that ended with a last-place finish. By going beyond the call of duty to bring extra condiments on BART and creating his own chants, Gordon has gained the undying support of the Bay Area’s underdog baseball team — and those who call its stadium home.

“I grew up at the Coliseum, so I’m familiar with hot dog vendors. When Hal came around, he was another one of those Coliseum charms. The position isn’t going away, but I will always remember those moments he gave us as a hawker with the A’s,” says Bryan Johansen. He’s the co-founder of Last Dive Bar, an online A’s apparel shop independently run by him and his two friends, Carl Moren and Paul Bailey, since 2019.

In 2020, Last Dive Bar teamed up with Gordon to create shirts with slogans like “Gimme an A!" and “Hal’s My Pal” — all phrases popularized by Gordon and his fans during his tenure. Each tee is illustrated by A’s Fan by Design, with proceeds going to the Alameda County Community Food Bank.

“It’s all a reflection of your experiences [at the Coliseum],” Johansen says. “It’s about people’s connection to being a fan of their favorite team and their baseball stadium. Hal is a part of those aspects.”

Gordon embodies a sense of organic community that is strong among A’s fans, who’ve arguably endured more suffering than any of the remaining Bay Area sports franchises. Over time, Gordon’s Twitter feed has become a live photo gallery of real faces at the Coliseum in a way that sports media would never be able to portray. He is, quite literally, a man among the people. 

The dramatic turmoil surrounding the future of the Oakland A’s has allowed figures like Gordon to become even more noticeable. There’s a reason Gordon was embraced in Oakland and not, for instance, in San Francisco — where Gordon would occasionally vend as well.

“The blessing of being an A’s fan and working for the A’s is that there was so much room and oxygen to try new things and do new things,” he says. “I’ve gotten to know so many people there by name and by face, and have made so many friends. I know every single season ticket holder. That wouldn’t have been possible at almost any other stadium. It’s a blessing.”

For Gordon, it’s about the friendships he’s made and the good memories he’s been a part of, especially during a time of negativity surrounding sports franchises in Oakland. It fueled him to do what he did during his time behind the proverbial food plate — especially when it came to younger fans.

“Hal created lasting moments for my son and for the future generation of fans,” says Johansen. “My son knows his name. He’s not super into baseball, but he remembers names: Ramón [Laureano], [Tony] Kemp, Hal. Hal took the time to make the moment special for him and other kids.”

One of the ways he has done that is by gifting homemade prank ketchup bottles that shoot out red string — another Gordon signature — to excitable young fans, including Johansen’s son. Gordon also gives away Hal the Hot Dog Guy trading cards, which kids and adults alike have been known to collect. (I have a few stashed away with my lifetime A’s memorabilia.)

When the games were over and the lights turned off, Gordon was often one of the last workers to leave the Coliseum. Often, he could be found at community events throughout the East Bay, too.

“He helped organize a great Fan Fest earlier this year with the Oakland 68s,” tweeted Alex Espinoza of 95.7 The Game. “Won’t be the same without him!”

Mike Delia — a San Francisco public transit operator — credits Gordon as the inspiration behind him creating his own MUNI-themed baseball cards. Another fan started an online petition to keep Gordon at the Coliseum that has more than 250 signatures so far.

For every game of the A’s season, there’s a story about Gordon’s kindness or goofball antics to be told. Still, he knows the magic will remain, with or without his hot dogs.

“The most important part is that we were just having fun. Those of us at the stadium just had fun together,” says Gordon. “This East Bay community isn’t going anywhere. Those friendships, the people, the fandom — it’s bigger than the politics and whims of any one person.”

Who can’t rally around that?

A curated selection of photos were submitted by Oakland A's fans in response to this Tweet

Hot dog vendor in old-timey striped vest poses with a young A's fan.

Hot dog vendor holds a tray of condiments surrounded by smiling A's fans.

Man in a green "Binding Vote Szn" t-shirt poses with a woman in a black baseball cap.

Man holds up a Hal the Hot Dog Guy trading card while posing with the man himself at the stadium.

Hot dog vendor and a fan pose dramatically next to cardboard cutouts of themselves.

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Hot dog vendor and a fan shouting out at the stadium. The cart in front of the vendor reads, "Fresh Hot Dogs."