Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The New York Yankees Brawl at the Copa 1957

As I stated in my blogpost The Cocktail List at the Copacabana 1943 on my blog Sisco Vanilla Serves and Drinks, I'm going to attempt to do some cross-promoting among my blogs including my NYCHistory blog page. For my Fall and Winter 2013 reading/research project I'm going to try and read up on some of the classic New York City cafe society bars, saloon, night clubs and lounges that help make New York City a center of entertainment during the early part of the 20th century.

I recently finished reading The Copa: Jules Podell and the Hottest Little Club North of Havana by Mickey Podell-Raber with Charles Pignone. The author is the daughter of longtime Copacabana proprietor Jules Podell and the book is part family biography and part history of the nightclub. The book is a quick and easy read, full of both family pictures and pictures at the club with various celebrities and dignitaries. I recommend it.

Now you might be asking yourself: What does the Copacabana have to do with Baseball? Well, during the Baseball season of 1957, there was an incident that occurred at the Copa involving a number of the World Champion New York Yankee players including future Hall of Famers Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford among others. In an era where news media often gave a blind eye to the extra curricular activities of athletes, this incident became big news nationwide. Since Mrs. Podell-Raber does a good job in describing what happened, read what she had to say in her book:
On the evening of May 16, 1957, a melee broke out at the Copacabana that would have a dramatic effect on the New York Yankees. That evening the nightclub and sports world would collide, and there would be no way to quash the story. Although the press was less invasive in the lives of celebrities and sports figures back then, this story was to hot to bury. While there has never been an accurate factual account that all agree upon and the participants' stories have varied, this seems to be what transpired that night at the Copa.

Several Yankee players who frequented the Copa regularly decided to meet at the nightclub in honor of Billy Martin's twenty-ninth birthday. Those attending the party included Yogi Berra, Hank Bauer, Whitey Ford, and Mickey Mantle, along with their wives. Sammy Davis Jr. happened to be the headliner that evening and a group of intoxicated bowling buddies began heckling him during the performance. According to those in the audience, the bowlers started shouting racial slurs at Davis. The Yankee players were livid and told the guys to sit down and shut up. After a few terse words were exchanged, the Copa staff appeared to have calmed everything down. While peace and quiet prevailed in the show room, it did not elsewhere in the club. One of the intoxicated hecklers would be found later, lying unconscious and with a broken nose, on the floor of the Copa men's room. Many believe the man had followed Hank Bauer into the bathroom, and Bauer took matters into his own hands. Bauer denied hitting the bowler, who later sued him for aggravated assault, but Bauer was found not guilty. The incident made headlines in the New York-area papers and around the country the next day. Several of the Yankees involved were fined $1,000 each by Yankee general manager George Weiss, while Billy Martin would eventually be traded to Kansas City. The Yankee front office blamed Martin for the trouble and believed him to be a bad influence on his teammates.

Mickey Mantle later recounted his version of what happened that night: "Two bowling teams came in to celebrate their victories. Sammy Davis Jr. was the entertainer. They kept calling him 'little black Sambo' and stuff like that. Billy and Hank kept telling them a couple times to sit down. They kept standing up. The next thing I knew was that the cloakroom was filled with people swinging. I was so drunk I didn't know who threw the first punch. A body came flying out and landed at my feet. At first i thought it was Billy [Martin], so I picked him up. But when I saw it wasn't I dropped him back down. It looked like Roy Rogers rode through on Trigger, and Trigger kicked the guy in the face." Yogi Berra was quoted at the time as saying, "Nobody did nothin' to nobody!"
Imagine something like this happening today with let's say Jeter, Cano, Sabathia, Rodriguez, Granderson among others getting into a drunken brawl at the 40-40 club. We wouldn't hear the end of it in every single media market. According to the article Yanks Play the Copa from the New York Times dated May 16, 1957:
Six members of the world champion New York Yankees were involved in a postmidnight disturbance tonight during a party at the Copacabana nightclub in Manhattan. The Yankees, who were at the club to celebrate Billy Martin's 29th birthday, included Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Hank Bauer, Whitey Ford, Johnny Kucks and Martin. The disturbance stemmed from an argument between the players and members of a bowling club who also were celebrating at the club.
A June 4th article stated the following:
Mantle, Berra, Bauer, Ford and Martin were fined $1,000 each and Kucks, a young pitcher in a lower salary bracket than the others, was fined $500. The fines were deducted from the checks the players received at the Yankee Stadium two days ago...Berra, Bauer and Kucks confirmed the fines. Ford insisted, "I wasn't fined." When pressed, he said: "I was told what to say. They haven't announced it, so why should I?"
Bauer would be cleared of all charges by the Grand Jury and the lawsuit against him was eventually dropped. Billy Martin became the scapegoat of the incident and was shipped off to the Kansas City A's in an eight-player trade on June 15, 1957 which included Ralph Terry, Woodie Held and Bob Martyn for outfielder Harry Simpson, reliever Ryne Duren and outfielder Jim Pisoni . But his history of fist-a-cuffs did not start or end there. According to his obituary Billy Martin of the Yankees Killed in Crash on Icy Road from the New York Times dated December 26, 1989:
He had fights with Clint Courtney, a catcher for the St. Louis Browns, in 1952 and 1953. He and several teammates, including Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra, were involved in a fight at the Copacabana nightclub in New York in 1957. In 1960, he broke the jaw of a Chicago pitcher, Jim Brewer, and Mr. Brewer later won $10,000 in a lawsuit. As a manager, in 1969, Mr. Martin knocked out one of his players, Dave Boswell, who was fighting another player. In 1979, it was with a marshmallow salesman; in 1985, one of his own players, Ed Whitson, who broke Mr. Martin's arm in a furious fight at a Baltimore hotel; in 1988, in the men's restroom at a topless bar in Texas.
This does take into consideration all suspensions that Martin received from arguments with umpires throughout his career. That Billy was quite the scrapper.

Click on the following video to hear Mickey Mantle's version of what happened:

My how things have changed since the late 1950's. ;)
Sisco Kid.