SI Vault
 
IN THE SPRING THE BOYS OF SUMMER MAKE THE PINK PONY THEIR HANGOUT
Ron Fimrite
March 17, 1986
Charlie Briley is a ramrod-straight, Southern-bred gentleman with a shock of silver hair and a face profoundly furrowed by the good life. On this spring night, seated as always on his stool at the crook of the bar in his Pink Pony restaurant, he is haunted by the suspicion that something is up.
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
March 17, 1986

In The Spring The Boys Of Summer Make The Pink Pony Their Hangout

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4

Charlie doesn't need endorsements from his famous patrons, but he gets them, nevertheless. Martin says, "I love the place. I love Charlie and Gwen."

"There is an ambience there that just seems to bring in the baseball crowd," says Caray, the legendary broadcaster. "I'd never think of going to Arizona without going to the Pony. Hell, I rarely miss an evening there."

"It's like that place on television, Cheers" says Feeney. "You go where they know you."

"Baseball people attract baseball people," says Rigney, "and when you get them together, they tell stories."

"They ought to hold the winter meetings there," says Sutton. "On an ordinary night there are enough G.M.s in the room to make 15 trades."

As a matter of fact, trades have been made at the Pony. In 1973, for example, Spec Richardson, then the G.M. at Houston, offered outfielder Jim Wynn to the Red Sox' Dick O'Connell over a Pink Pony Special. O'Connell showed no interest, but Dodger scout Guy Wellman was eavesdropping. Wellman skulked off to the pay phone near the rest rooms and called his superiors in Los Angeles. An hour later, Wynn was traded to the Dodgers for pitchers Claude Osteen and Dave Culpepper. Wynn hit 32 homers and drove in 104 runs to lead Los Angeles to a pennant that year.

The Pony may sound like a miniature Cooperstown, but it doesn't look much like one. It's roomy—19 booths, 15 tables and, with 13 stools at the bar, a capacity of about 200—but it's also intimate and as dark inside as the bottom of a well. Take away Reese's autographed bats, The Baseball Encyclopedia behind the bar and Ferguson Jenkins' uniform shirt in a glass case on the wall of the main dining room and the Pony looks less like a sports bar than the average neighborhood or suburban tavern. There are 70 framed caricatures on the walls, many of baseball people, but just as many of year-round regulars and pals of Charlie's. The earliest drawings were done in the '50s and '60s by the late Don Barclay, a former Walt Disney animator, but the later ones have all been done by Gwen Briley herself. Her likenesses of Martin, A's publicity director Mickey Morabito and Dave Bush, a San Francisco Chronicle baseball writer, are classics of the genre. Hank Aguirre, a former big league pitcher, is on the wall twice, once as a young athlete and again as a middle-aged businessman. Aguirre is a true Pony regular who entertains the crowd every spring with a magic show that involves, of all props, raw eggs. Paul Zimmerman, sports editor of the Los Angeles Times years ago, is depicted only once, but since he is in profile and his nose is of Cyranoesque dimension, he occupies adjoining frames. Rigney is shown as a dark-haired young manager of serious mien, and is, therefore, unrecognizable, since his top is now as snowy as the Jungfrau's and, free as he is of managerial cares these days, his expression is perpetually sunny.

Nobody, not even Charlie, knows exactly why the place is called the Pink Pony, but there is a large ceramic pony, indeed pink, behind the bar to assure even the fuzziest imbiber of his precise location. Charlie is not hard to find inside. He's the slim fellow sipping Budweiser at the crook of the bar, the only man in the room, more than likely, wearing a tie and freshly pressed slacks. Gwen, a pretty and bubbly redhead some years Charlie's junior, will be at the door hailing incoming customers as old friends, which, of course, almost all of them are.

Much of the Pony's popularity may be attributed to its fortunate location, in the heart of downtown Scottsdale, once the tiniest of cowtowns, now a thriving and chic little metropolis of about 88,000 just east of Phoenix. Five spring baseball camps—the Cubs', Angels' (for the first half of spring training), Mariners', Giants' and A's'—are within half an hour of Charlie's front door, and the Brewers (Chandler, Ariz.), Indians (Tucson) and Padres (Yuma) are in town more than they're out. Such familiarity, far from breeding contempt, lends a certain sense of community to the Arizona spring training experience, which the Pony cheerfully exploits. In Florida, where teams are spread all over the landscape, there is no center and, therefore, no Pony. "Arizona baseball is slower, sweeter and somehow better fixed in memory [than Florida baseball]," writes The New Yorker's Roger Angell, a Pony regular himself. "There is no Pink Pony in Florida. The Pony is the best baseball restaurant in the land." But how on earth did it get that way?

Charlie Briley hitchhiked to Arizona from his native Scottsville, Ky., in "nine-teen-and-thirty-six," he says. He had come west to visit his sister, Camille Culton, for just a couple of weeks. He has stayed 50 years. The jump from Scottsville to Scottsdale was far more ambitious than he could possibly have imagined. As a kid in Kentucky, Charlie had been a pretty fair lefthanded pitcher—"wilder 'n hell." He was good enough to play against the House of David team in Bowling Green, and he once batted against a barnstorming Grover Cleveland Alexander ("He struck me out"). In the spring of 1931, Charlie made the 60-mile trip to Nashville, Tenn. to watch the Cardinals play the Yankees in an exhibition game. He was particularly impressed with a 20-year-old Cardinal farmhand who could really zing the ball and who struck Charlie, a pitcher himself, as a certain star. Kid named Dizzy Dean. Charlie asked him for an autograph. "All I had with me was a checkbook," he recalls. "So I tore out a check and handed it to him. Diz looked to make sure there was nothing on the front of that check, then he signed the back. 'Keep this, kid,' he told me. 'Someday, you'll be proud of it.' Well, it wasn't long before I was. That was 1931. Forty-three years later, I was a pallbearer at his funeral."

Continue Story
1 2 3 4
Related Topics
  ARTICLES GALLERIES COVERS
Charlie Briley 1 0 0
Phoenix 337 0 0
Arizona 1135 0 8
Billy Martin 148 0 1
Dizzy Dean 29 0 0