Across 19 major-league baseball stadiums in 19 states, are scattered the ashes of former Pink Pony owner, Charlie Briley. Perhaps one of the most well-known fans in the history of American baseball, Briley is largely responsible for bringing the Cactus League to Phoenix. It was his prime rib, stiff drinks and enthusiastic fandom that found baseball legends like Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, and Jay “Dizzy” Dean seated in one of the Pink Pony’s booths season after season.
In 1949, Briley worked as a bartender at another local establishment where he met developer and part-owner of the New York Yankees, Del Webb. Webb introduced him to the Pink Pony’s owner Claudia Ogden who hired Briley on as a bartender and then sold the restaurant to him for $50,000 just a year later. During these early years, Phoenix was just beginning to cultivate its status as a spring training destination for major league baseball teams and Briley’s avid and vocal love of baseball soon brought like-minded baseball aficionados through the Pony’s doors. Briley’s close friendship with pitcher-turned-sportscaster “Dizzy Dean” strengthened the restaurant’s ties to baseball as Dean not only happily talked-up Briley and the restaurant any chance he got, but also brought many baseball big shots to dine at its tables. When the Baltimore Orioles agreed to do their spring training in Arizona, it was Briley who spearheaded a group of local businessmen to raise $56,000 in 1955 to build Scottsdale Stadium. Numerous teams utilized the stadium for spring training over the years and the Pink Pony functioned as a kind of unofficial office where owners and managers signed contracts and made trades over a round of drinks.
The presence of spring-training in Scottsdale helped to solidify its reputation as a tourist destination and brought valuable cash flow into Scottsdale, not only from the teams who made it their home for the season, but also for the fans that traveled here to watch them practice. Scottsdale’s association with baseball heightened its visibility, made it even more appealing to the starlets and celebrities who began frequenting its resorts and partaking in its nightlife. (Certainly, the Pink Pony hosted many of these celebrities: Gene Autry had his own booth, Clark Gable liked to light up at the bar, and Robert Wagner and Natalie dined here on their wedding night.) Scottsdale’s participation in the story of baseball echoes the larger story of America’s mid-century love for the game. If the 1950s was a turning point in the construction of Scottsdale’s identity as both a tourist and a baseball haven, the decade was also a turning point for the status of the sport in American popular culture. To be sure, baseball had been popular for decades, but its popularity grew to new proportions as television broadcasts offered Americans a whole new way to experience baseball. Changes to the way the game was played and the exceptional quality of the players only increased the fervor of its fans. The style of play shifted to privilege home runs—from 1949 to 1959 the number of home runs per game increased by 32%--and players like Jackie Robinson, Yogi Berra, Stan “the Man” Musial, and Ted Williams populated the field. It was fascinating, it was dynamic, and it felt distinctly American at a time when the Cold War political climate made it seem as if the American national identity was under attack. Charles Briley’s love for baseball, the Valley’s love for baseball, is part of a broader phenomenon in which baseball became the iconic American pastime.