Ralph the Program Guy

Ralph Platner, the Program Guy (by Chris Young, 2011)Chris Young photograph for Toronto Star.

Raphael (Ralph, Ray, Rafe) Platner
Born: October 1, 1947
Died: October 9, 2014 (Toronto)

If you attended a professional sporting event in Toronto in the past 50 years, you likely heard the hustling pitch of Ralph the Program Guy.

He was an indefatigable vendor, best known in recent years for hawking programs. He worked games for the football Argonauts, hockey Maple Leafs, basketball Raptors, soccer Toronto FCs, and professional lacrosse’s Rock, though he was usually associated with baseball’s Blue Jays, owing no doubt to the 81 home dates as well as the sunnier weather allowing a passerby to linger to appreciate Ralph’s untiring performance.

He wore his hair in a brush cut and preferred thick-framed black frames on his glasses, as though he had settled on a look a half-century ago and was not about to give in to current trends. He was tanned and muscular, owing no doubt to his tireless racing up and down stairs at any stadium.

For 37 years, he sold game programs published by Core Media for Toronto teams. “He was an odd character, but a hard-working son of a gun,” the company’s president told the Toronto Star.

Platner worked the southeast corner of the Rogers Centre (formerly SkyDome). He also worked the Air Canada Centre, Maple Leaf Gardens, Exhibition Stadium, BMO Field and other venues.

His career as a vendor began at age 15 in 1963 when he sold snow cones at a live performance billed as “The Three Stooges Meet the Gorilla” with aerialists, acrobats, clowns and other circus acts at a “matinee fun-fest!” at the Canadian National Exhibition grandstand. After a taste of Larry, Moe and Curly Joe, young Ralph was hooked on vending.

He sold Shopsy’s hot dogs at Maple Leaf Stadium until the baseball park was torn down following the 1967 season. As well as sporting events, he could be found hawking programs at music concerts and other entertainments, including the Beatles concert in Toronto on Sept. 7, 1964. His two greatest days of sales are said to have been during the 1992 World Series and a concert by the boy band New Kids on the Block two years earlier.

Socially awkward, Platner claimed a photographic memory and, given a birth date, would cite the day of week on which it occurred. In 2011, the teacher J.D.M. Stewart profiled Platner for the Globe and Mail. He told Platner his birthdate was May 2, 1969. A Friday, Platner pronounced. How did he know that? “Well, because of Kent State,” he said. “That was May 4, 1970, so I just worked it out from there.” The killing by guardsmen of four students at the Ohio university took place on Monday.

Platner was also famous in some circles for his habit of crashing a bar mitzvah at about the time food was being served. While some long thought this was an urban legend, several came forward at the time of his death to recall seeing him at friend’s, or their own, ceremony.

Platner suffered a stroke in July and his absence was noted by regular attendees at the Rogers Centre. He died at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto eight days after his 67th birthday. He never married and had no survivors.

The death of Ralph the Program Guy, as he was universally known, was lamented by casual fans and sports broadcasters alike. “Ralph was always in a hurry,” wrote the sportscaster Mark Hebscher. “Whether it was running up and down the stairs at the (Sky)Dome in his shorts, work boots and black socks, or making change for a customer, he didn’t waste time. … I never saw him in a seated position. He was always standing, or walking, or running.”

He is to be buried in the Shaarei Shomayim Synagogue section of Mount Sinai Cemetery in Toronto.

Ralph (The Program Guy) PlatnerGlobe and Mail photograph.

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