There was never a bad time to go to Foley’s, of course, but the very best were those late hours each January after the baseball writers’ dinner, because that’s when the very best element of Foley’s was on display.
There were writers crowding those tables, of course, some of them dressed in their once-a-year black-tie finest. There were always a few ballplayers, most of them allowed to blend in with a nod and a wave to enjoy their beers and their chicken wings. Baseball officials would be there, of course, renewing acquaintances. And, of course, fans. So many fans. Treating Foley’s like a pilgrimage.
And there was Shaun Clancy, overseeing all of it, that half-smile on his face reflecting that he was standing in the middle of exactly the kind of saloon he’d dreamed up. Everybody belonged, everyone was welcome, everyone was required to do just one thing: have as good a time as possible. Laugh as much as the law allowed.
“If you ever leave here in a bad mood,” Clancy once told me, “then we’ve done something awfully wrong.”
There is a reason why there was so much sadness Friday afternoon, when the news spread across the city that Clancy would not be re-opening Foley’s. Look, we are surrounded by sadness, warped with worry, bookended by the dueling anxieties of uncertainty and helplessness. Foley’s won’t be the only victim of this lousy mess.
But as it goes, it takes a significant chunk of the city’s heart, this baseball city, where its baseball-loving citizens could walk in the doors at 18 W. 33rd Street, have a look around at the pennants and the jerseys and the old newspapers tearsheets and the row after row of signed baseballs — more than 3,500 of them — and feel, at once, in both a special place and a familiar one.
“I took my son there for the first time, and I didn’t think I would ever be able to get him out of there,” SNY’s Ron Darling told me once. “He said, ‘Dad, it’s the greatest place on earth. It’s like a baseball museum with beer!’ ”
Ours is a city that has a long history of sporting saloons, one that stretches long before there was such a thing as “sports bars.” Toots Shor ran the most famous one of all, at 51 W. 51st Street, and in the late ’70s and early ’80s there was Runyon’s, operated by the great Joe Healey, on the corner of 50th Street and Second Avenue.
Clancy knew all about this history. It was his dream to be the heir to that throne, and on the night his place opened in 2004, he shared it with his friend Pete Caldera, a baseball writer for the Bergen Record.
“I want to create a new Toots Shor’s,” Clancy said, the optimistic twinkle in his eye and the soft lily of his brogue making it all seem not only possible, but inevitable.
“Of course, he had me right there,” Caldera says. “But can you imagine having that vision and pulling it off so beautifully? He’s the greatest saloon keeper in New York.”
We all have strong memories of days and nights from across these 16 years. I’ve written three books; all three launch parties were held there. A few summers ago, Clancy inducted me into the Irish-American Baseball Hall of Fame — in the crucial “I Didn’t Know They Were Irish!” wing (yes, I’m 50 percent McMahon).
Clancy’s small ego wouldn’t allow such a place to be called “Shaun’s” or “Clancy’s,” so he specifically sought a sportswriter with an Irish surname as a muse — that’s how Red Foley received a most unlikely and most unwitting legacy. But the soul of the saloon was all Clancy: he raised so much money for charity over the years, causes both public and private. If you had an idea, all you needed to do was ask.
“We’ll figure it out, lad,” he’d say.
That is what breaks Clancy’s heart as much as having to close his doors: In normal times, Foley’s would’ve been at the head of the parade raising money for all manner of causes and projects. The place had a soul, a kind and giving one. And everyone who walked through the doors was treated as if they belonged at Shor’s old famous Table No. 1.
Clancy promised this is the “end of the inning, not the end of the game.” Let’s hope so. In these times, we need more places where laughter and friendship rule the day. Not less.
Another binge watch I’m late to, but hey, we all have time to make up for these things: “Mrs. America,” on Hulu. Great writing, great acting, incredible story.
Does it make you wonder at all how teams in Kansas City and Minneapolis can afford to keep floating their minor leaguers through this pandemic devastation, and a team that works in Queens, in New York City, cannot? Because it sure makes me wonder.
I’m pretty sure that even Marilyn vos Savant would have difficulty understanding the NHL’s new lottery system.
I guess it’s not really, officially a basketball season until the Knicks are told directly that they are not invited to participate in the playoffs.
Whack Back at Vac
Kim Soriano: Mike, in your heart, do you believe, after the column you wrote, the back-and-forth negotiations, and Max Scherzer’s statement, that baseball will return?
Vac: I do. I think it’s going to get worse before it gets better, uglier before it gets prettier. But I can’t believe both sides are destined for a “Planet of the Apes” finale here (“You blew it up! Damn you!”).
Ray Martin: Personally, I am not surprised that MLB negotiations are at an impasse, because nobody in baseball knows how to sacrifice anymore.
Vac: Try the veal! Tip your waitresses! (Gosh … I miss waitresses …)
@JosephGentile: Brian Cashman has one World Series title in the past 19 seasons, the longest such stretch of futility in franchise history. Yet, for some reason, Cashman has zero accountability.
@MikeVacc: Here’s a funny thing I’ve noticed about some Yankees fans: If you praise Aaron Boone too much, they are quick to remind you that your pet labradoodle could’ve won 203 games the last two years with that talent. But when you also mention that someone had to assemble that talent, they’ll kill Cashman, too.
Jimmy Franco: Thank you for the terrific column about Gale Sayers and Brian Piccolo. It was a very moving tribute and brought back such wonderful memories of the time I watched “Brian’s Song” with my dad. It’s also reminded me that I need to find a way to watch it with my boys, so they can appreciate what Piccolo endured and the rewarding friendship that he and Sayers had with each other.
Vac: My profound thanks for the many who responded to that column. It is amazing how profoundly the power of friendship resonance over the decades. Especially THAT friendship.