NEW YORK — The death of a former New York sports-bar owner this week has some of his former patrons from the worlds of baseball and media reminiscing about golden memories of a more innocent time where pens were put away and athletes and media mixed with ease.
Joe Healey, 77, died of prostate cancer in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., on Tuesday, more than two decades after his bar, Runyon’s: A New York Saloon, shuttered.
Runyon’s was the sports world’s crossroads where players, umpires, writers, television executives, police and fans ritually congregated for nightly discourse that could last until nearly dawn.
“It was a frat house for sports people,” former New York Daily News columnist Mike Lupica recalled Wednesday.
Healey, son of former congressman James Christopher Healey, dreamed of opening a successor to Toots Shor’s Restaurant, “the joint” off Rockefeller Center where the sports world gathered from 1940 through ’59, and then again when it reopened a block away from 1961 through ’71.
Together with Jimmy Costello, whose father, Tim, owned a bar that was a New Yorker and Daily News hangout, Healey opened Runyon’s on April 1, 1977, on East 50th St. off Second Avenue and named after sportswriter Damon Runyon.
The Yankees were on the rise, and Runyon’s became a hangout in an age in which games ended earlier, and players and media members arrived before midnight to dissect events they had just participated in and chronicled, many while eating sizzler steaks.
“That was our place for a cold one after a ballgame,” retired umpire Bruce Froemming said, especially remembering a night when he was doing card tricks there for Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.
Former Mets outfielder Rusty Staub, broadcaster Bob Costas, singer Terry Cashman, basketball coaches Tom Penders and Bill Raftery, and CBS Sports executive producer Kevin O’Malley were among Healey’s regulars.
Costas, who — like Lupica — spoke with Healey for the final time Saturday, hosted his “Coast to Coast” radio show from Runyon’s and recalled interviewing Ted Williams for two hours as people in the packed bar watched.
“It was a bit like ‘Cheers.’ You just showed up and there were at least a handful of people you knew or you were friendly with,” Costas said. “You could just walk in the door by yourself and you’d have companionship there and like-minded people.”
Raftery, then Seton Hall’s head coach, said he owed his career as a television analyst to getting to know O’Malley at Runyon’s.
“Everybody was anonymous there. No matter the stature, you were embraced by Joe. It was almost like a crazy little family,” Raftery said.
Ronald Blum is an Associated Press writer.
This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/sports/article/Famed-New-York-saloon-owner-Joe-Healey-dead-at-77-13815566.php.