Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Al Campanis

As the old saying goes, "Life is not always fair."

Unfortunately, a brief moment in time can ruin a life's work.

Just take Alexander Sebastian Campanis, for example.

He is best remembered for his controversial remarks on the half-hour television show "Nightline," rather than for his many accomplishments in baseball during a career that spanned over 40 years.

On April 6, 1987, Campanis agreed to appear on Ted Koppel's show "Nightline" to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking baseball's color barrier.

Campanis' life would never be the same again.


During the interview, Campanis shocked Koppel and the entire world with his response to questions about continued prejudice in baseball.

Campanis said, among other things, that blacks "may not have some of the necessities to be, let's say, a field manager, or perhaps a general manager."

The next day Campanis issued an apology, but it was a little too late.

Nothing could save Campanis from the media frenzy that suddenly surrounded him.

At the request of Dodger President Peter O'Malley, Campanis resigned the following day.

Sadly, Campanis' brief appearance on "Nightline" transformed how others would perceive him.

He would now be viewed as a racist.

Ironically, during Campanis' 44 years as a player, scout, manager and executive in the Dodger organization, he was considered anything but a racist.

"He did more for black players, more for Latin players, than anybody," Tommy Lasorda would later tell the press.

"In all the years I've known him, I've never heard him say one racist thing, ever." added Dodger broadcaster Vin Scully, "He didn't have a racist bone in his body."

Born in Greece, Campanis came to the United States when he was just six years old. He graduated from New York University in 1940 and entered the Navy shortly thereafter.

He had a brief stint with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1943, appearing in just seven games and batting .100, collecting two hits in 20 at bats.

He also played shortstop for the Montreal Royals in 1946 when Jackie Robinson broke into organized baseball as the Dodger farm team's second baseman.

As a scout, Campanis signed such notable black ballplayers as Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente and Tommy Davis, a two-time batting champion.

Appointed as the club's general manager in 1968, Campanis guided the Dodgers to four National League Pennants and a World Series title in 1981. But tragically all of his achievements would be overshadowed by his racially charged remarks on "Nightline."

Camapanis' life came to an end on June 21, 1998. He was 81.


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