Filed Under Post War 1950s, 60s

The Pink Pony

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.

Audio

Fly on the Wall A former Pink Pony bartender daydreams about the celebrities, steaks, and swagger all in a day's work at the Pink Pony. Written by Amy Long; narrated by Rick McGinley. Recorded at Scottsdale Channel 11; courtesy of the Papago Salado Association.

Images

The Millionaire's Booth, ca. 1956
The Millionaire's Booth, ca. 1956 In her 1956 article, "Sands of the Desert Turn Gold," LIFE photographer Nina Leen captured the legendary patrons of the Pink Pony in this shot of the Millionaires' Booth, one of the prime locations in the restaurant where bigwigs from near and far held council and conducted business. Image courtesy of LIFE Magazine. Source: LIFE Magazine
Pink Pony Ad, ca. 1954
Pink Pony Ad, ca. 1954 As this July 30, 1954, ad in the Scottsdale progress attests, in addition to building a reputation as a haven for baseball fanatics, the Pink Pony cultivated a reputation as a dispenser of stiff qualities and high-quality steaks (which Briley procured with expertise given his background as a meat wholesaler). The presence of air-conditioning only contributed to its popularity as locals and visitors alike anxiously sought refuge from the heat. Image courtesy of Scottsdale Progress. Source: Scottsdale Progress
Pink Pony, ca. 1950s
Pink Pony, ca. 1950s Though the facade of Pink Pony's long-term location at Scottsdale Rd. and 1st St. drew on mid-century interpretations Western and Native-American motifs, the interior of the restaurant was a shrine of baseball memorabilia. It betrayed the fervent love of baseball that shaped the restaurant's identity. Sports Illustrated once even called the Pink Pony "the most popular hangout for baseball people in the civilized world, " and baseball writer Roger Angell called it "the best baseball restaurant in the land." Image courtesy of Scottsdale Public Library. Source: Scottsdale Public Library

Location

Metadata

Amy Long and Laura Keller, “The Pink Pony,” Salt River Stories, accessed July 21, 2024, https://saltriverstories.org/items/show/23.