Joey Silvestri Remembers the Yankees' "Copacabana Incident" in 1957

Steve Somers Show
July 02, 2020 - 2:42 pm

If you’re an old school New Yorker who loved the nightlife, you likely know the name of Joe Silvestri, a street brawler from Queens turned mob muscleman, one better known to many as “Joey The Fixer” or “Joey at the Copa” from his days working security at the Copacabana.

And, if you’re an old-school Yankees fan, you likely know about how Silvestri was somewhat involved in an incident at the Copa in May 1957, when a group of Yankees players and a bowling team from Washington Heights got into a sticky situation during Sammy Davis Jr.’s swan song at the club.

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If you don’t know any of that, or wanted to re-live it, well, we’ve got you, because Silvestri joined Steve Somers during WFAN overnights last week to talk about that night at the Copa – a night he was off, and wasn’t really supposed to be there.

“It was a Wednesday and I was off, and Mr. Podell (the owner) didn’t like us hanging around there, but it was Sammy’s last night; we had become friendly, so I was there as a guest of Sammy’s, sitting with Sidney Poitier and his wife, and Harry Belafonte and his wife,” Silvestri told Somers.

That night, a group of Yankees including Mickey Mantle, Billy Martin, and Whitey Ford, among others, came to see Sammy Davis off, and ended up in the midst of a maelstrom.

“When the actual situation arose, Pauly, my partner, was working upstairs. The Yankees sat down, and the guys from the bowling team sat down, and they were pretty well juiced,” Silvestri recalls. “I don’t know where Pauly was when this started, but if I had been working, we wouldn’t have let (the bowling team) in, because the boss didn’t want drunken people coming in.”

And fear not, Silvestri said: the Yankees didn’t start the incident, per se, but they did try to stop it.

“(The bowlers) were noisy and were being verbally abusive to Sammy, so they were asked to cool it. They didn’t appreciate that, and they kept it up, and it really got to be out of hand,” Silvestri said. “So then, Billy Martin went over and told them to cool it, in so many words. If you know Billy’s history, he’s a tough guy who I had a lot of respect for, and they told Billy get lost. You tell Billy Martin something like that, you have an automatic fight on your hands.”

Of course, being Joey The Fixer, SIlvestri was tabbed to keep the peace…and did it his way.

“Murray, the lounge manager, came over to me and told me Pauly was having a problem. I had to get up and go, so I walk around the back to where the fight was going to be, and I pushed people out the door,” Silvestri said. “It was like a domino effect; a couple guys fell down, including Billy, and the troublemaker moved to the side as I pushed everybody down. He had his hand cocked to throw a punch at Pauly, so I hit him with a left and a right, and the rest is history.”

Silvestri, of course, went into further detail about the rest of the Copacabana incident, which you can hear for yourself in his full segment with Steve Somers below.


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