“What's wrong with a kid making a buck?"
The words are attributed to Babe Ruth, speaking in defense of Rick Mastry's late father, Lay Mastry. Rick Mastry dug those eight words from the halls of memory this week to describe a disparity among noted sports bars in St. Petersburg.
Namely, Mastry's Bar and Ferg's Bar and Grill.
The story goes that a young Lay Mastry, who at 21 founded his namesake bar in 1935, would stand outside the Yankees spring training camp to snag foul balls. He'd then wait for Ruth to sign them before hawking them right there for $1. Other players scoffed at the young capitalist. But Ruth didn't mind.
"What's wrong with a kid making a buck?" Rick Mastry, 57, said this week in the near-empty bar.
The feeling is that Mastry's isn't getting its due anymore. Time was when this dive bar was the place to be, the spot where Babe Ruth and Billy Martin and others bent elbows. A smoky place to revel in baseball tales and fishing tales and soak up a beer.
The current success of the Tampa Bay Rays makes Mastry wistful. He has been sporting a Rayhawk for weeks. It nearly brings tears to his eyes, he said, to see his sunny city full of strangers from places like Ohio, Michigan and New York celebrate the same franchise for once.
So why not celebrate with the bar that has followed St. Pete baseball all along?
"It takes a winner to make people want to connect," said Mastry. "A lot of people are coming in here to celebrate what our kids have done."
Yet, come game time, the crowds and cowbells and TV cameras head en masse to Ferg's Sports Bar and Grill, which sits catty-corner to Tropicana Field at 1320 Central Ave.
Maybe it's the fault of modern transportation, mused longtime bartender Alena Maynard. A question of buses vs. trollies.
"They kind of shuttle 'em right by us," said Maynard, referring to out-of-towners who stay in downtown hotels and are whisked away by bus.
Of course, Mastry's Bar wasn't always at 233 Central Ave. The old location where Ruth and Martin hung out was down the street, a building that gave way to a parking garage through eminent domain. The shuttle used to stop right in front.
And they served hamburgers and other bar food at the old location. Ferg's offers a full family-style menu.
At Mastry's, they serve up nostalgia like it was 1935.
"My father served Babe Ruth in this bar," Mastry said of his dad, who died Aug. 30, 2005. "Billy Martin worked up a bar tab and my father made him work behind the bar to pay it off."
A stuffed, 131-pound tarpon caught by Lay Mastry hangs above the bar. Gone is the "beer book" journal that Lay Mastry kept behind the bar, the one that everyone, famous or not, scribbled in. But the black-and-white baseball photos on the walls are still dusty, and the furniture is the same as when the bar reopened at this location in 1988.
"It's pretty much the same," said Maynard, the bartender, adding with a nod to the wall of Rays memorabilia: "A little more pictures on the Wall of Shame."
Down Central Avenue, Mark Ferguson, who opened Ferg's 16 years ago, said there was really no competition between the two establishments.
"It's two different spectrums," said Mark Ferguson. "I've been going there for years. It's a hole in the wall and everybody goes there. But it's not a place you would go watch the game. It fits about 50 people, and there's no food."
"I'm here because the dome is where it's at," Ferguson added.
But history ties Mastry to his downtown location. That and the argument that you, too, can turn a buck.
"Why would you want to pay 20 bucks to park in that neighborhood," Mastry asked, "just to go to Ferg's?"
Luis Perez can be reached at (727) 892-2271 or Lperez@sptimes.com