May 16, 1957 – The Infamous Yankee Copacabana Incident
On May 16, 1957, Billy Martin celebrated his 29th birthday with a night on the town that ended at the famous Copacabana night club. He was celebrating that night with Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Hank Bauer and their wives. The players ended up in a drunken melee and the incident was the eventual cause of Martin being traded to the Kansas City Athletics.
The entertainer Sammy Davis, Jr. was headlining the Copa that night when a group of bowlers entered the nightclub and began heckling Davis, including some racial epithets. The Yankees, being big fans of Davis, took offense to the name calling and came to his defense.
While there are many versions of what happened next, it is clear that the brawl resulted in one of the bowlers, a Bronx deli owner, ending up with a concussion and a broken jaw. Hank Bauer was thought to be the Yankee most likely to have punched the abusive bowler and a lawsuit was brought.
“Well,” asked a grand juror, “did you see a gentleman lying unconscious on the floor near the Copa entrance?
“Yes I did,” Mantle answers.
“All right. do you have an opinion as to how this could have happened?”
Mantle thought about the question and then, with a serious look on his face, said “I think Roy Rogers rode through the Copa, and Trigger kicked the man in the head”
The Grand Jury broke out laughing, and an hour later the district attorney threw out the case for insufficient evidence.
Source: Mickey Mantle America’s Prodigal Son by Tony Castro (pp 177-179)
Despite the case being thrown out, however, the damage had been done. Yankee GM George Weiss had long believed that Billy Martin was a bad influence on his teammates and on Mantle in particular. One month later, Weiss traded Martin, Ralph Terry and two minor-leaguers to the A’s for outfielder Harry (Suitcase) Simpson, reliever Ryne Duren and outfielder Jim Pisoni.
Ironically, on June 16, 1957, Martin’s first game for the A’s happened to be against the Yankees. Martin had two hits, including a home run, and scored 3 runs in a 8-6 loss to the Bronx Bombers.
The Copa incident also led to a famous quote by Yankee manager Casey Stengel. When asked why he dropped Bauer to 8th in the lineup but left Mantle in his familiar 3rd spot,
“I’m mad at him, too, for being out late. But I’m not mad enough to take a chance on losing a ball game and possibly the pennant.”
Hear Mantle tell about the Copa incident in his own words