The Los Angeles Dodgers, acting to quiet a storm of criticism, particularly from the black community, fired team Vice President Al Campanis on Wednesday for remarks he had made in a nationally televised interview two days earlier.
On ABC-TV’s “Nightline” Monday night, Campanis, 70, made several comments that were seen as being insensitive at best and possibly bordering on being racist.
Among other things, Campanis told host Ted Koppel that he thought blacks “may not have some of the necessities to be a field manager or general manager” in baseball and voiced doubts as to whether blacks even wanted management positions in the sport.
Dodgers’ owner Peter O’Malley, speaking at a news conference in Houston before Wednesday afternoon’s game against the Astros, announced that he had asked for Campanis’ resignation.
“The comments Al made Monday night . . . were so far removed and so distant from what I believe and what the organization believes that it was impossible for Al to continue the responsibilities that he’s had with us,” O’Malley said.
The firing followed written apologies by the Dodgers and Campanis that did little to quell the criticism of the baseball executive’s remarks.
“I have never said blacks aren’t intelligent,” Campanis said during the “Nightline” interview. “Many of them are highly intelligent, but they may not have the desire to be in the front office.”
Campanis also made several stereotypical remarks about blacks being “gifted” athletically and at one point asked, “Why aren’t blacks good swimmers? Because they don’t have buoyancy.”
Koppel, realizing the difficulty Campanis was creating for himself, gave the Dodger vice president several opportunities to either retract or clarify his remarks, but Campanis did neither.
The comments brought an immediate outcry, with several black leaders demanding that Campanis, who joined the Dodger organization in 1943, either be fired, apologize or both. Black players on the Dodgers also voiced concern.
Hank Aaron, a vice president with the Atlanta Braves and the highest-ranking black executive in baseball, called Campanis’ remarks typical of the “backward” thinking among baseball owners and management.
“All that shows is how ignorant the man is,” said Aaron, who also said that Campanis should “apologize to every single black person in America.”
In Los Angeles, both Mayor Tom Bradley and Assemblywoman Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) angrily criticized Campanis. Bradley said he “does not accept” Campanis’ beliefs, and Waters, at a press conference Tuesday, described Campanis’ statements as “unbelieveably racist.”
The assemblywoman demanded that the Dodgers sever all ties with Campanis. “They can get rid of him any way they would like, but they should get rid of him,” Waters said.
O’Malley at first stood by Campanis. When asked if Campanis would be fired, O’Malley on Tuesday replied, “Absolutely not.”
Instead, both Campanis and the Dodgers issued written apologies.
In part, Campanis’ statement read: “My statements have been construed as indicating a belief that blacks lack the ability to hold such (management) positions. I hold no such beliefs. However, I, and only I, am responsible for my statements.
Apology to Blacks
“Therefore I apologize to the American people and particularly to all black Americans, for my statements and my inability under the circumstances to express accurately my beliefs.”
The apologies notwithstanding, O’Malley on Wednesday asked Campanis to resign. On reflection, O’Malley said, he realized that Campanis’ remarks were too serious to be dealt with simply by an apology.
O’Malley said Campanis, who has been a Dodger front-office employee since 1950 and has been the team’s vice president in charge of player personnel since 1968, will not be given another position in the organization, nor will he serve as a consultant.
O’Malley said he had not been influenced in his decision by strong protests from such organizations as the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People and the Urban League.
“Fortunately, I’ve been in Houston yesterday and today, so I haven’t read what comments are in the newspaper and to what extent protests might exist,” O’Malley said. “It was just, in my judgment, the appropriate, proper and right thing to do.”
Campanis was unavailable for comment on Wednesday, but Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda, a close friend of Campanis, voiced disappointment at the decision to fire Campanis, saying that he should have been given another chance.
“It’s a shame, a crime,” Lasorda said. “I think of all the people he’s worked for and helped. He made one mistake. Why he said it, who knows? To see him go out this way. . . .
“I hope and pray that the people of America can forgive a man who made one mistake and it cost him. . . . This man is going to have to live with this for the rest of his life. It’s not the way it should have ended. The man should’ve gone out with style and class.”
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