More than 400 pieces of baseball memorabilia once inside Scottsdale’s famed Pink Pony Steakhouse and Saloon will be on the auction block Saturday, and a local historical organization has been given up to $5,000 to spend on items relating to the history of spring training in Arizona.
The auction, which begins 11 a.m. Saturday at the Antique Centre, 2012 N. Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale, is the second and last of two auctions that feature items from the 60-year-old restaurant that once was called “The Best Baseball Bar in America.”
The Mesa Historical Museum, which is in the second year of the ongoing exhibit “Play Ball: The Cactus League Experience,” recently was given $5,000 by Hunt Construction in Scottsdale to spend at the auction.
Among the items in the auction are caricatures of some of the players and customers who were regulars inside the bar rendered by Disney artist Don Barclay, vintage baseball photographs that once hung inside the restaurant frequented by Hall of Famers, baseball personalities and personalities during the spring training season and other items relating to baseball’s legends who ponied up to the bar or ate the restaurant’s trademark prime rib steaks while concocting trades on cocktail napkins.
Robert Johnson, who is project leader for the Play Ball exhibit, now housed at the Arizona Museum for Youth in Mesa, told the Tribune they are grateful for the contribution from Hunt, which can help the museum acquire items with local appeal.
“The goal is to preserve as much as we can relating to the history of spring training in Scottsdale and in Arizona,” said Johnson of Highground Public Affairs Consultants, who is the project leader for the Play Ball exhibit. “We’re looking for unique items that would grab people’s attention and stick out. We have a limited budget, so we’ll have to look over the list and see what would work well for us.”
Other items in the auction include a game-worn Nolan Ryan Texas Rangers jersey, autographed baseball bats and autographed vintage sports photographs of Hall of Famers such as Ted Williams, Joe Garagiola, Robin Yount and a May 17, 1982, issue of Sports Illustrated autographed by Gaylord Perry to mark his 300th victory. There are also autographed photos of NFL Hall of Famers Jim Brown and Joe Namath and a 1960s-era magazine cover signed by NBA Hall of Famer Bob Cousy.
Hunt Construction, a 67-year-old firm with offices throughout the U.S., has built numerous Major League ballparks and entertainment venues including Chase Field and US Airways Arena, both in Phoenix, Safeco Park in Seattle and The Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati.
The Play Ball project, dedicated to the history of spring training in Arizona, is projected to have its own museum within the next three to four years in Mesa. The $5,000 gift will help preserve some of the memorabilia so it would remain in the hands of a local organization and be viewed by the public, said Mike Gausden, an executive vice president for Hunt Construction.
“We couldn’t have done this without Hunt Construction,” Johnson said. “We’ll go after the items that make sense for the museum to have.”
The funds mark the second $5,000 donation Hunt Construction has provided for the Play Ball project, which is nearing its third phase, he said.
“I think it’s a good cause and I can’t think of a better place for the museum to be other than Mesa,” said Gausden, a Cubs fan who grew up in Chicago during an era when fans could buy a grandstand ticket to the games for $3 and when families watched games together on black-and-white TVs in their living rooms. Gausden also frequented the Pink Pony for about 30 years.
“Even in these tough economic times I thought the donation for this was a good decision,” Gausden added. “I’d hate to see these artifacts go somewhere where they couldn’t be displayed for the public. If the museum needs all of the $5,000, they have it to spend at the auction, but for whatever they don’t spend, they have the money to spend elsewhere for items at the museum.”
Gwen Briley, the former owner of the Pink Pony, and her husband, the late Charlie Briley, owned the restaurant for 60 years, but Gwen Briley closed it last year and sold it in May. The new owners, who bought it for $1.1 million, plan to re-open it in late October and keep most of the same menu items and some of the baseball memorabilia, including the home plate from the original Scottsdale Stadium.
The first of the two auctions held in connection to the Pink Pony on Aug. 15 featured some of the restaurant’s fixtures including rustic wooden wine barrels, a copper moonshine still that Charlie Briley brought from Scottsville, Ky. where he was from and an autographed Arizona Diamondbacks game-worn Randy Johnson jersey and a baseball park print signed by Mickey Mantle and Ted Williams.
As Johnson, Gausden and Bob Hart, also a vice president for Hunt Construction. looked through boxes of old spring training programs at the Antique Centre, they marveled at the advertisements in them, picturing some long-gone businesses in the Valley and some that have survived the decades.
“There’s really a lot of good stuff here,” Hart said. “It’s like going back in time.”