Twenty thousand days ago, one of the most controversial off-field moments in Yankee history occurred. Naturally, it involved Billy Martin.
In fact, it was Martin’s 29th birthday all those days ago, on May 16, 1957. Since he wa a long time Yankee with many good friends on the team, Martin’s birthday was a cause to celebrate, and celebrate the Yankees did.
After defeating the Kansas City A’s 3-0 that night at Yankee Stadium, many guys went out with Martin to party. They went to one of the swankest clubs in town, the Copacabana.
Martin went out with Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Hank Bauer, Johnny Kucks, Yogi Berra, and their assorted wives. It promised to be a good night, as Sammy Davis Jr. was the headline performer that night at the Copa, and the Yankees were enjoying the show.
It started out nice. Then some bowlers showed up.
These bowlers weren’t looking for just a nice pleasant evening like the Yankees were. They also weren’t big fans of Sammy Davis Jr. Oh—and they were drunk. They began heckling Davis. They began race-baiting Davis. And the Yankees, Sammy Davis Jr. fans that they were, decided they weren’t going to stand for it. Martin was especially infuriated, as he was the roommate of Elston Howard, the team’s first black player.
Exactly what happened next is something of a Rashoman incident. Different people told different stories. What is clear is a fracas broke out pitting Yankees versus bowlers. When it was over, one bowler was knocked unconscious with a broken jaw and a concussion.
The story was headline news the next day: Several star Yankees involved in melee at high profile club! None of the Yankees were suspended, but several were fined.
The Yankee who suffered the biggest punishment was Martin. He was just an aging second baseman for a team that had Bobby Richardson ready to take over. Thus Martin was fungible. Also, the team thought the volatile infielder was a bad influence on his higher profile teammates, especially the hard-partying Mantle.
A month later, the team banished Martin to the lowly Kansas City A’s. Martin was offended and hurt by this transaction. In particular, he was angry at manager Casey Stengel. The two had a father-and-son relationship that went back to the 1940s when a teenaged Martin played for Stengel in the Pacific Coast League. Stengel didn’t call for the trade, but Martin was hurt that Stengel couldn’t or wouldn’t protect him.
Martin wouldn’t speak to Stengel for years afterward. The story I heard is that long after the trade, someone told then-coach Martin that he better make up with Casey. Martin was a lot younger and thus would outlive Stengel, and if he didn’t make peace with the old man while he could, he’d regret after the chance was gone. Martin did eventually make peace with his former manager.
He also eventually came back to the Yankee fold. Hurt by his trade to KC, Martin always badly wanted to wear pinstripes again, and so he would, becoming Yankees manager for the first time in 1975, 18 years after his trade. His yearning to return to the Yankees was later taken advantage of by club owner George Steinbrenner, who hired and fired Martin five times, the most times any manager has been hired by one franchise.
As it happened, the Copacabana incident occurred almost halfway into Martin’s life. Three decades later, he died on Christmas in a car wreck.
Aside from that, many other baseball-related events celebrate their “day-versary” or anniversary today. Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d prefer to just skim the list:
2,000 days since the Orioles trade Jeff Conine to the Phillies.
7,000 days since the Cubs sign over-the-hill free agent Willie Wilson.
9,000 days since Bill Madlock, of all people, get three homers in one game. As an added—and somewhat amazing—endnote, in his last plate appearance of the game Madlock laid down a sacrifice hit. That’s right, with a chance for four homers in a game he bunted to move the runner over. It’s one of only four games in history in which the guy with three homers also has a sacrifice hit.
9,000 days since Mark McGwire belts two homers, giving him a record-tying five long balls in a two-game period.
9,000 days since Ron Darling has it going on for a while, but then falls apart. The Mets hurler is tossing a no-hitter after seven innings, only to see the Phillies rally for a 5-4 win. Pinch hitter Greg Gross gets a triple that opens the floodgates.
10,000 days since baseball star Matt Cain is born.
10,000 days since the death of Hall of Fame manager Walter Alston.
40,000 days since A’s star first baseman Harry Davis steals second—and then steals first base. There’s a runner on third and Davis is trying to draw a thrown from a catcher. It doesn’t work, but he later steals second again and that does draw a throw for the double steal.
40,000 days since Honus Wagner steals second, third, and home in the seventh inning for the Pirates against Boston. It’s the second time in his career he’s done it.
40,000 days since Hall of Fame pitcher Iron Man Joe McGinnity allows the first batter of the game to homer off him. It’s the only time this happens to McGinnity in his 381 starts. Cincinnati’s Joe Kelley, also a Hall of Famer, gets the blast.
1861 Stump Wiedman, pitcher hamstrung by terrible run support, is born.
1883 NL president A. G. Mills calls for a “harmony conference” with the American Association.
1892 Nemo Leibold, “Clean Sox” outfielder on the 1919 White Sox who went 1-for-16 in that year’s World Series, is born.
1908 Red Barber, longtime baseball broadcaster, is born.
1909 The NL creates some new rules. They say that all relief pitchers must retire at least one batter before exiting the game. Also, they deprive its umpires of the power to issue fines.
1912 Boston trades former star Mike Donlin to the Pirates.
1912 Washington trades catcher Gabby Street to the Yankees.
1915 Jersey Bakely, a 19th century pitcher who was hurt by lousy run support, dies.
1924 Frank Chance, earlier named new White Sox manager during this offseason, has to resign due to ill health.
1930 Roger Craig, pitcher and manager, is born.
1936 Tom York, star ballplayer from the 1870s, dies at age 85.
1937 The Yankees purchase Babe Dahlgren from the Red Sox.
1950 The Indians release Satchel Paige.
1956 Kip Selbach, former player, dies.
1976 Pepperdine University star pitcher Mike Scott tosses a perfect game against California Lutheran University.
1980 While taping separate interviews for KNBC-TV in Burbank, California, Giants coach Jim Lefebvre and Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda get into a fistfight. Lefebvre is a former Dodgers coach and clearly there are hard feelings over that time period for him.
1982 Hall of Fame umpire Nestor Chylack dies.
1984 Houston signs free agent J.R. Richard. It’s an attempted comeback from the former ace hurler but it won’t pan out.
1986 Hall of Fame starting pitcher Red Ruffing dies at age 80.
1989 Lefty Gomez, Hall of Fame pitcher (who is also the former longtime teammate of Red Ruffing) dies—also at age 80.
1990 The Yankees sign amateur free agent Mariano Rivera.
1993 The owners decide that revenue sharing and a salary cap will be linked in the upcoming round of negotiations with the Players Association.
1995 Tigers manager Sparky Anderson says he will not use replacement players during the strike and is put on involuntary leave of absence by the Tigers as a result.
1999 The A’s sign free agent John Jaha. It’s the first wave of Beane-ball in which they get high-OBP sluggers who can’t field worth a lick.
2003 Orioles pitching prospect Steve Belcher dies shockingly in spring training of multiple organ failure as he suffers from a 108-degree body temperature. He’s taken ephedrine and that’s suspected as being the cause for his troubles.
2008 The Rockies sign free agent outfielder Scott Podsednik.