In his old office at Dodger Stadium, Al Campanis hung only three pictures--of Jackie Robinson, Sandy Koufax and Roberto Clemente, an African American, a Jew and a Puerto Rican.

But that’s not what Campanis saw, those who know him best insist. He simply saw the three greatest ballplayers who crossed his path during his 44 years in the Dodger organization.

“He never, ever judged a ballplayer by his color, his religion or his country,” said an emotional Tom Lasorda, the former Dodger manager who has known Campanis for more than 40 years. “I would swear to that on a stack of Bibles.”


Lasorda and others close to Campanis are speaking out in his defense on this, the 10th anniversary of Campanis’ appearance on ABC’s “Nightline.”

This should be a time of joy for Campanis, who ought to be in the forefront of the celebration of the 50th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s breaking the color barrier in major league baseball, because Campanis was once Robinson’s closest friend on the field. But because of the “Nightline” appearance this has become a dark anniversary for Campanis.

Asked about the lack of a significant number of blacks among the ranks of baseball management on the ABC program that night in 1987, Campanis said that “they may not have some of the necessities to be, let’s say, a field manager or, perhaps, a general manager.” He also said, “Why are black people not good swimmers? Because they don’t have the buoyancy.”

Those remarks cost Campanis his job as the Dodgers’ vice president of player personnel.

“That did not sound like the Al Campanis I know,” said Don Newcombe, another black baseball pioneer who followed Robinson to the Dodgers in 1949 and went on to become a pitching star with the club. “He will be my friend as long as he lives and as long as I live.

“I don’t believe he has a prejudiced bone in his body. If Jackie were around today, I don’t think he would appreciate what has happened to Al because Al helped him and befriended him. He would tell Al, ‘You just messed up and you’ve got to apologize,’ and Al did apologize.”

Now 80, Campanis, who never again worked in major league baseball, has trouble speaking for himself. A fall in the shower in February resulted in a broken shoulder and, subsequently, pneumonia, anemia, heart problems and diabetes. He remains hospitalized in Orange County.


Many of those who were outraged by Campanis’ 1987 remarks expressed hope that perhaps some good might at least come out of his ill-chosen words. At the time, there were no black managers or general managers and there had been only three black managers and two blacks in front-office jobs in the history of the game.

“My Dad said that if this gets a foot in the door for blacks to be managers or general managers, it’s worth it,” said one of Campanis’ sons, George, an Orange County car dealer.

Immediately after Campanis’ “Nightline” appearance, Peter Ueberroth, then the baseball commissioner, told The Times, “If you were to ask me if I think we’ve made enough progress, the answer is no. . . . I’ve seen some [progress], but not to the point that I can be proud. In time, I think I will be.”

A decade’s worth of time has resulted in three blacks in managerial positions and one in a general manager’s post. Bob Watson is the New York Yankees’ general manager. The managers are the San Francisco Giants’ Dusty Baker, the Colorado Rockies’ Don Baylor and the Toronto Blue Jays’ Cito Gaston. Another manager, the Montreal Expos’ Felipe Alou, is from the Dominican Republic. Also, National League President Leonard Coleman is black.

According to statistics released by major league baseball, the percentage of blacks serving in front-office jobs was 9% in 1989, and that figure remained unchanged heading into this season. Including all minorities, the figure was 15% in 1989 and is now 18%. The percentage of blacks who were executives or department heads was 4% in 1990, and is up to 6% heading into this season. With all minorities included, the figure has gone from 7% to 11%.

Asked what the slow progress in minority hiring told him, Fred Claire, Campanis’ successor with the Dodgers, said, “That there is still a heck of a lot more work to be done.”


But Newcombe says some of the responsibility must fall on black shoulders.

“I get tired of all the bitching and moaning that there are not enough blacks here and there are not enough blacks there,” said Newcombe, who has worked in the Dodger front office since 1970. “Al didn’t mean for what he said to come out the way it came out, but blacks need qualifications for a job like anybody else needs qualifications. You cannot be a general manager just because you’ve been successful on the field. That’s not the way you run this business or any other business.

“If a group of blacks wanted to own a team, there are enough wealthy black people who could get together and go to a bank with $20 million or $30 million and the bank would let that group do whatever it pleased. I would bet my life that if somebody went to [Dodger owner] Peter O’Malley with the proper credentials, Peter wouldn’t give a tinker’s damn what color he was as long as his money was green. As long as he had the necessities--you hear, I’m quoting Al Campanis now--a man could hire his own general manager or his own manager or do whatever he wanted.

“Baseball has been branded a bunch of bigots because they are not giving jobs to blacks, but many blacks are not preparing themselves to be ready for those jobs. They ought to be preparing themselves while they are playing, but none are doing it.

“Now that’s not to say that problems don’t exist for blacks. There is still prejudice. I’m not satisfied. Jackie Robinson wouldn’t be satisfied. But people are willing to make changes.”


Originally, Newcombe was supposed to be the Dodgers’ representative on that “Nightline” show, which was planned to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Robinson’s debut with the Dodgers. The plan was for Newcombe, who was traveling to a speaking engagement, to be interviewed at a Sacramento television station, but, when fate intervened as Newcombe’s planned flight was delayed, Campanis, who had been Robinson’s roommate with the minor league Montreal Royals in 1946, was contacted.

Campanis agreed to appear from the Houston Astrodome, where the Dodgers were opening their 1987 season that April 6.


No one in the Dodger organization knew about Campanis’ appearance until an ABC representative approached Steve Brener, then the Dodgers’ publicity director, in the Astrodome press box in search of Campanis.

When Brener learned of the “Nightline” request, he advised Campanis not to go on.

“I told him I wouldn’t recommend it,” Brener said. “He was a 70-year-old man who had traveled that day and would be up sitting on a stool on the field behind home plate after the game, looking into a camera and the bright lights.”

After Campanis was fired, Tommy Hawkins, a former Laker and a popular figure in the Los Angeles black community, was brought in as the Dodgers’ vice president of communications. Brener wound up leaving after 18 years with the team.


In 1946, Campanis, the son of an Italian army officer and a Greek seamstress, was a struggling infielder in the Dodger organization.

That year, he was summoned by Branch Rickey, then the Dodger president, who was about to embark on a bold experiment. Rickey was going to end the ban on blacks in the minor leagues by putting Robinson at second base for Montreal, the Dodgers’ International League franchise.

If all went well, Robinson would make the leap to the major leagues in 1947.

But Rickey knew that Robinson had to be ready. And Rickey felt Campanis was the man to get him ready.


Room with him, Rickey told Campanis. Teach him how to make the double play. Teach him how to get out of the way of all those prejudiced so-and-sos who are going to come barreling into second with Robinson in their sights and hatred in their hearts.

“Jackie needed a friend at that time,” Newcombe said, “and Al was that friend.”

From his hospital bed last week, Campanis reminisced about those days.

“Jackie was very intelligent, very daring, a good ballplayer,” Campanis said. “But he was a shortstop when he went to Montreal. I showed him how to play second base.

“It wasn’t easy. Several times, I had to jump in when players said something to him about his color.”

Campanis told Robinson there were three effective ways to avoid a sliding runner at second while completing the double play.

“I’ll do it my way until I have a problem,” Robinson told him.

That lasted until a runner got a bead on Robinson and sent him crashing into the dirt.

As Robinson laid there on his back, Campanis came rushing over to see if his roommate was all right.

Robinson looked up, grinned at Campanis and said, “Can I start learning those other two ways at 9 tomorrow morning?”


Campanis had one particular way in mind.

“I’m going to teach you to throw the ball at the forehead of the next guy who comes way out of the base line to get you,” Campanis said.

All it took was a few such throws to end that practice.

Robinson didn’t forget what Campanis had done. One of the fondest memories of Jimmy Campanis, another son of Al’s, was of Robinson coming to his fifth- grade class as a favor to Jimmy’s father.


Campanis’ “Nightline” remarks were heard by a Times reporter on assignment on the East Coast. With several hours still to go until The Times’ deadline on the West Coast, the reporter called his boss, Sports Editor Bill Dwyre.

Dwyre had no access to the actual broadcast, but he did have access to Buddy Martin, then the sports editor of the Denver Post, owned in those days by Times Mirror, the L.A. Times’ parent company. Dwyre woke Martin up and asked him to watch the show, which would be on in Colorado 90 minutes before The Times’ deadline.

Dwyre wasn’t certain what he was going to do at first.

“When he got to the buoyancy part,” Dwyre said, “I thought he went too far. I felt this was a stereotype that reflects a certain state of mind. It was then that I said we would go with the story.

“It was the toughest decision I ever had to make. It was a real tough call. Part of me wished I had missed it, that I hadn’t had a shot at it. But once I saw it, I did the journalistic thing. My head told me one thing, but my heart told me the opposite.


“He is a friend of mine. To this day, I hate this story.”

The impact of The Times’ front-page story on Campanis the next day was so powerful, Claire, 10 years later, can still remember where it was on the page.

“It ran down the right-hand column,” he said. “It was so shocking to read those comments. But his actions in baseball just don’t match up to his words.”


George Campanis understands how the remarks came about.

“When he said necessities, he was thinking experience,” the younger Campanis said. “He had just gotten a call a few days earlier from Reggie Jackson, who had wanted his help in becoming a manager. My dad told him that he would have to start in D ball and work his way up. That wasn’t what Reggie wanted to hear. But that’s what my dad was thinking that night because he had just talked to Reggie.

“As for the buoyancy thing, growing up, we always used to hear about my dad’s experiences in the Navy in World War II. One of his jobs was to work with the recruits when they had to make a high dive into a tank to simulate falling off an aircraft carrier. My dad would tell us how a lot of the blacks would sink to the bottom and he would have to dive down and pull them up. They were so scared that they would pull and scratch at him. He finally got a pole to pull them up. My dad thought it was because they had a low fat content in their bodies and because a lot of them didn’t have their own swimming pool or a place to swim growing up.

“But you have to remember, my dad was not a silver-tongued devil like Tommy Lasorda. If Tommy said something he regretted, he could get out of it. My dad is more the strong, silent type.”


As a young announcer with the Dodgers in the ‘50s, Vin Scully roomed with Campanis, so they have always been close.


After the game that night in the Astrodome, Scully remembers glancing down at the field as he walked out, looking at Campanis on what he would later learn was a hot seat.

“I didn’t know what he was saying, but he looked so alone, so vulnerable,” Scully recalled.

Scully soon learned how accurate that impression was.

When he got back to the hotel, Scully found Campanis standing in the lobby.

“Hey, roomie, what’s up?” Scully asked.

“I think I [bleeped] up,” Campanis said.

“Oh, I’m sure it will be fine,” said Scully, not aware of what Campanis was talking about. “Let’s go have a drink.”

Campanis begged off and headed up to his room.

“He seemed so confused, so upset,” Scully said. “He was pale and shaking. He had obviously gone through a traumatic experience.”

When Lasorda learned what that experience had been and that it would cost Campanis his job, the Dodger manager said he broke down and cried.

“The only other time I cried like that was when my son died,” Lasorda said.

In the days after the incident, friends rallied around Campanis. Former Dodger shortstop Maury Wills, a black player, came to the Campanis household and answered the phone by saying, “This is Maury Wills, a friend of Al Campanis.”



Campanis almost died a few weeks ago from his illness and that got people thinking about the fact that the “Nightline” incident will be what a lot of people remember of him.

“That’s going to be the shame of the whole damn situation,” Newcombe said. “Al did a lot for the Dodgers and baseball. That [“Nightline”] is what is going to be remembered or even mentioned is criminal. I wish somebody would say some good things about him rather than the one negative thing.”

There are plenty of positives. When catcher Roy Campanella, another of the early black Dodger players, died, his wife, Roxie, gave the silver cup Campanella received on his night at the Coliseum to Campanis.

When Claire and several others in the Dodger organization recently went to the Dominican Republic to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the baseball academy the Dodgers run there, they were given a plaque to present to Campanis in honor of his years of promoting Latin American players.

“I don’t want him to leave being marked with something like that ‘Nightline’ show,” Lasorda said. “They have hung an innocent man. Who do you think signed Roberto Clemente? Who do you think signed Willie Davis and so many other black players? This story has to be told.”

It will be told as part of Campanis’ story. Along with the baseball academy and the long years of service and all of the other good things. But for those who choose to remember it, the “Nightline” episode will also be there.


Said Scully: “It is truly an American tragedy.”