Pub Owner of Giants Fan Bar Recalls Saying “Hey” to the Say Hey Kid Willie Mays

Brian Stapleton and his pub owning partner Dieter Seelig ran Finnerty’s sports bar in the East Village which was a famous meeting ground for Giants baseball fans in New York. When the pub’s fame spread to San Francisco, the duo got to meet the legendary Mays in January 2011.

| 24 Jun 2024 | 06:37

Brian Stapleton and his pub owning partner Dieter Seelig got to meet the legendary Willie Mays back in 2011 after he made a swing back to is old stomping grounds, accompanying the 2010 World Series trophy.

Several years earlier, in 2008, they had opened Finnerty’s, an East Village pub, and turned it into a refuge for San Francisco sports fans. The football 49ers were terrible at the time, but in 2010, the Giants went on a magical run that culminated with a World Series championship, their first since Willie Mays roamed center field in the Polo Grounds in 1954.

Throughout the playoff run, the pub was packed and video of the fanatical fans, some of whom actually recalled the days when the Giants and Willie Mays still called the Polo Grounds home, were packing the pub every time the Giants played.

Word soon reached the Giants management in San Francisco and when Stapleton reached out to one of their top executives, Stacey Slaughter, about fostering the connection with the pub, he said the executive had already heard of the East Village pub which had started to get attention in San Francisco media. “Of course we know who you are,” she told him.

The San Francisco connection actually started with a bartender they hired who had a following of San Francisco 49er football fans. But when the football season ended, the two pub owners kept a connection of the Giants alive too, chartering bus trips to Shea Stadium and Citifield whenever the Giants visited. And once a year a contingent would fly to a San Francisco Giants game sporting t-shirts that read: “Representing the 212 and the 415,” for the phone area codes of the two cities the Giants have called home.

In January 2011, on a publicity swing to New York to foster a connection with the roots of the franchise, the Giants brought the World Series Bowl trophy to New York and made a stop at Finnerty’s at 211 Second Ave.

The Giants delivered the trophy via chauffeur driven limo and Stapleton estimates 5,000 patrons stood on line for a chance to take their photo with the trophy.

The Giants asked Stapleton and Seelig if they wanted to come to a meeting with Mays in a mid-town Manhattan hotel, to which they quickly agreed. They took their perfunctory photo op. But as Mays and his assistant were getting ready to leave, Mays came over to the two pubs owners. “I’m going for a cup of coffee,” Mays said. “Would you like to join me?”

“We spent the next 20 minutes talking to the greatest living ballplayer in America,” recalled Stapleton, a memory which was made all the more poignant with Mays passing at age 93 on June 18.

”He kept it light,” Stapleton said. “He said he had heard of Finnerty's. I don’t know if he really did, but he could not have been more kind and caring. He was the kindest most caring man you’d ever want to meet,” said Stapleton. He said Mays told them he had fond memories of his Polo Ground playing days in New York, where he helped the then-New York Giants win a World Series in 1954 vs the Cleveland Indians. Mays made one of the greatest throws in World Series history to gun down a runner at the plate with a one hop throw to the catcher from deep center field.

After COVID forced the shut down of Finnerty’s, Stapleton transferred the San Francisco fan base to another pub, Plug Uglies. Stapleton, a retired FDNY firefighter had originally co-owned that pub with his retired NYPD dad, Michael, who, after leaving the NYPD bomb squad, had formed a private investigative company.

On June 9, that pub moved into its third location, the former Bull’s Head on Third Ave. He said he and five others moved the pub’s famous saw dust covered shuffleboard table down the block to the new location on Third Ave. near E. 23rd St.

Each time the Giants won a World Series in 2010, 2012 and 2014, the Giants brass made a point of having the trophy make a stop at Finnerty's. Each time it appeared, Stapleton said thousands of fans would mob Finnerty's for a chance to take a photo with the trophy. “It was a pub owner’s dream,” said Stapleton. But said nothing will ever top that first meeting with Mays in 2011.

“He made us feel like family,” Stapleton said.