Tuesday, November 5, 2013

How Would 2013 View the Copacabana Incident?

This morning Kavanaugh wrote a really interesting post about bars to which he would time-travel, and here's the comment I quickly left:

Another good one from NYC: Copacabana Nightclub during the '50s. Imagine having a front-row seat as Mickey, Yogi, and Whitey caused absolute mayhem. Modern-day media would have had a field day with them."

I wrote that before work, and since today was Election Day, I didn't have students to teach. As I sat in meetings all day, I thought some more about the Copacabana Incident and decided it warranted its own post.

For our younger readers (Read: For all 20 of our readers), the Copacabana was a happening nightclub in Manhattan that consistently booked high-profile performers like Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, and Frank Sinatra. You might know the Copa, as it was called, from the famous scene in Goodfellas.

On May 16, 1957 -- the night I'd time-travel to the Copa -- Yankee teammates Mickey Mantle, Billy Martin, Yogi Berra, Hank Bauer, Johnny Kucks, and Whitey Ford showed up to watch Sammy Davis, Jr. A group of bowlers showed up and began making racial slurs at Davis, who was black.

What happened next is sometimes disputed, but we do know that the Yankees whooped some ass. Several of the players stood up for their buddy Davis, and they beat up the bowlers just as you would expect pro athletes to beat up bowlers. (Here's a link to a video of Mantle talking about the incident.) Several of the players were fined, and the incident caused the Yankees to trade Billy Martin. One of the bowlers ended up with a concussion and broken jaw, so he sued Hank Bauer. The case was eventually thrown out. Yogi Berra later insisted, "Nobody did nothin' to nobody."

Can you imagine if something similar happened today?????

A thought experiment: In the above paragraph, replace "Mickey Mantle, Billy Martin, Yogi Berra, Hank Bauer, Johnny Kucks, and Whitey Ford" with "Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira*, Curtis Granderson, and C.C. Sabathia."

*You're right; I could never imagine Teixeira throwing a punch either.

Granted, it was undoubtedly a different time. After all, baseball players back then fought in wars, and many of them held down part-time jobs during the off-season. Still, Mantle, Berra, and Ford were three of the most high-profile athletes in the world. Here's how a headline in the New York Daily News portrayed the story:

What if the Internet had been around? This sort of hypothetical is fun for a lot of historical events, but the Copa story would have dwarfed what we saw last year with the Manti Te'o saga. Here's how I imagine Twitter if the Copa Incident repeated itself today:

It would be an absolute social media feeding frenzy.

I've been meaning to read Jane Leavy's book The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America's Childhood. Apparently, Leavy does a great job of deconstructing myths about Mantle, and I would like to check it out. Even before reading it, I find Leavy's title instructive. Mantle was famous in an age before mass media as we know it, not only pre-Internet but basically pre-television as well. He remained plausibly innocent, "the last boy", until much later in his life, when reports of alcoholism and other unsavory details surfaced.

It's just interesting to imagine how Mantle and his contemporaries -- and all their shenanigans --would have been viewed if they were born 50 years later.

It's also fun to imagine if I had been born 50 years earlier and could have been at the Copa that night.

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