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"'Well, this guy claims you hit him.'"
"I said, 'I'm sorry. I didn't hit anybody.'"
The Yankees issued a statement that their private investigators had satisfied general manager George Weiss that none of the players had struck anyone. The afternoon tabloids blared the news:
YANKEES' BAUER IN COPA BRAWL!
BAUER: I DIDN'T SOCK GUY IN KISSER
The Post listed possible managerial sanctions, including "the silent treatment." But manager Casey Stengel had plenty to say to the papers. He benched Berra and Ford and dropped Bauer to eighth in the batting order. Martin was injured and not expected to play. He didn't expect to remain a Yankee, either. "I'm gone," he told Mantle, who batted third as usual.
"I'm mad at him, too," Stengel said of Mantle. "But I'm not mad enough to take a chance on losing a ball game and possibly the pennant."
As far as the Yankees' higher-ups were concerned, Martin was the chief suspect because he always was. Just who hit whom was far less important than the precedent set by the morning's 72-point headlines. Martin's birthday party was prima facie evidence that things weren't exactly as they had once appeared in the Wheaties ads featuring the Mick's all-American mug. The Copa kerfuffle was the first public intimation of Mantle's off-field embrace of la vida loca.
Not everyone in New York was in Mantle's thrall. At Yankee Stadium, Frank Gifford, the splendid flanker for the New York football Giants, shared a locker with Mantle. "Excuse me, he shared a locker with me," Gifford corrected. They also shared Hollywood looks, a 1956 championship ring and the Most Valuable Player trophy. The Yankees called Gifford "Sweetness." Gifford called Mantle a "total ass----. Not a nice person. I didn't know him, but I didn't want to know him. The little bit I was around him, I didn't want to be around him. We deified somebody who hits the ball a long way, 'cause he's got a bad knee. Other than that, what did he do? What did he really do to help society in any way?"
Gifford, whose extramarital athletics were videotaped in a 1997 tabloid sting, has survived his own public shaming, but he has hardly softened his stance: "I'm just not a Mickey Mantle fan. I never was. He hit a ball a long way, and then he was a sexist. He was not my kind of person. We were MVPs the same year. I would hate to think I was even close to what he was."