He started slinging sodas at UC Berkeley's Memorial Stadium at the age of 10. 39 years later he was well known to local baseball fans at A's games for selling old-fashioned hot dogs out of a steamer box he carried around the stadium. And on Christmas Day, Jimmy Graff died in his Mission District apartment, leaving behind the elderly father who got him started in vending in the first place.
Jimmy was a second-generation Mission native, as the Chronicle reports, and having never been that interested in his studies at Thurgood Marshall Academic High School, he entered the world of ballpark vending in his teens. At 19, he was selling souvenir programs in the stands at Candlestick Park during Game 3 of the World Series when the Loma Prieta earthquake struck in 1989 — and family and friends recall to the Chronicle how he jumped into action selling programs after the quake telling everyone, "This is a historic game! You’re going to want a program to say you were here."
It was the A's organization that decided to bring back the 24-pound steamer boxes at the Coliseum in recent years, evoking old-timey Americana with vendors dressed in red-and-white-striped uniforms and paper hats. Per the Chronicle, Jimmy took to the uniforms and brought all of his professionalism to the task of vending.
Graff was well known for working crowds, carrying an array of condiments, and always remembering his regulars. 20-year A's season ticket holder Christopher Ray tells the Chronicle that Jimmy always remembered him, and carried along his favorite mustard — Bertman Original Ballpark Mustard from Cleveland — to put on his dogs.
Jimmy Graff was a legend, a great human, a first ballot HOFer. I’m devastated. So sorry Hal and my condolences to his family. Such a huge loss 😢. @DaveKaval @DALLASBRADEN209 pic.twitter.com/pPcs4z4byn— garrettshelton (@garrettshelton) December 27, 2019
Hot dog vendor Jimmy Graff was a staple at Oakland A’s and S.F. Giants games until he died unexpectedly on Christmas.https://t.co/YkIRwdtHeg— San Francisco Chronicle (@sfchronicle) December 29, 2019
Back in the Mission he was known to sit on his stoop drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes, and giving back to the community, like when he would pull out a cotton candy machine on Halloween to make treats for neighborhood kids.
The cause of Jimmy's death remains under investigation — his father found him in the bathroom Wednesday morning.
Graff is survived by four children, two grandchildren, his friend and fellow Coliseum vendor Hal Gordon, and his 77-year-old father. Friends and fans are being told they can make donations in Jimmy's name to UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital.