The 'Larger Than Life' Legend Of The Ballpark Beer Guy

Apr 8, 2016
Originally published on April 8, 2016 9:56 am

After a long, desolate winter devoid of bats and balls and more than a few questionable called strikes, big-league baseball is finally once more upon us. And while the action on the diamond is the main attraction, it's by no means the only competition that rages in ballparks across the country.

For a glimpse of another battle entirely, just look to the stands. There, in the aisles, you'll find vendors roaming the stadium selling refreshments, vying with one another to end each game as the day's top seller.

And chances are, if you're looking for that top seller at a Baltimore Orioles game, you'd do worse than look to Clarence Haskett — aka "Fancy Clancy." Haskett has been a vendor at Orioles games since 1974, and in the course of his career, he has sold more than a million beers.

He started when he was still in high school.

"And I don't know why I remember this," Haskett says, "but I made $8.25."

On a recent visit with StoryCorps, the all-time great sat with his friend Jerry Collier, once a longtime vendor himself, to talk about the job they both know so well.

"I met you probably the second day of my new job," Collier says. And Collier, who was then just 19, knew immediately whom he wanted to emulate. "When I looked around the ballpark, there was this ray of sunshine everywhere you look. A guy who outworked people, who out-loved all the customers more than anybody else. And I said, 'That's who I want to be like.' "

But Haskett says it wasn't just a matter of labor and love; he had a few secrets up his sleeve, too.

"I used to move quicker than a lot of the other vendors, because I was a sprinter in college," he says. "And another thing: You know I had the gift of gab. And I used to do rhymes so that helped me out."

One of his favorites?

"Hey! Empty your pockets, put your money in your hand, cuz here's Clancy, your beer man!"

It was just one element of a persona he developed to help his sales. And Haskett says that wasn't all. He kept in condition and kept sharp to keep ahead of the rest of the vendors — because competition could get fierce.

"The way that I look at my job as a vendor, my mindset is I'm a professional athlete. I have to stay in shape, I have to train during the offseason," Haskett says. "Because vendors running around with straps around their neck? That's only on television commercials. Good vendors pick up their case and they carry it."

They have always taken the job seriously — so seriously, in fact, that everything revolved around the Orioles' schedule, even their own weddings. Both of them made sure those ceremonies landed on dates the Orioles were out of town.

"You epitomize to me and so many people all that's right in the world," Collier tells Haskett. "If it's a rainout at the Orioles game and you only sell two cases of beer, in the big scheme of life, that's not a problem. And I think that's more than the rhymes and all the rest. You're larger than life in a lot of ways."

"I can always go somewhere and get a free beer from somebody," Haskett says, laughing. "I can go into a restaurant or bar that I've never been in before — there's always somebody who knew who I was, so I definitely shake a lot of hands."

Haskett's been doing the job for 43 years. And if he gets his way, he'll be doing it quite a while longer.

"As long as I'm still healthy," he says, "I know I got another good 10 years."

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Liyna Anwar and Cailey Cron.

StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.

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