Monday, April 16, 2012

The other day, it was Ozzie Guillen, the manager of baseball’s Miami Marlins. In 1987, it was Al Campanis of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Here’s Jim Murray, from April 10, 1987.

APRIL 10, 1987, SPORTS


Campanis Is Out of There — On Strikes

    Let's see if I got this straight: Blacks can't swim. Therefore, they can't be general managers in baseball. They lack buoyancy.
    They probably just lack swimming pools, but that foregoing at least seemed to be the thrust of what Al Campanis was saying on Ted Koppel's ‘Nightline’ TV show the other midnight.
    That's Al Campanis, the author of ‘The Dodger Way to Play Baseball,’ the one-time minor league teammate of Jackie Robinson and the man who was so devoted to Branch Rickey, the breaker of the color line in baseball, that he still calls him "Mr. Rickey" to this day in tones you normally reserve for George Washington or Abraham Lincoln. Or the prophet Isaiah.
       Al Campanis had one of the worst at-bats in the history of baseball Monday night. Al never was a terror at the bat, coming up with a total of two hits in his major league career. But he had some of the wildest swings in the history of the game on the TV show. He must have suddenly thought he was Ty Cobb.
    Al was on the show with Ted Koppel, one of the canniest interviewers who ever skewered a subject, and Roger Kahn, resident historian of the old Ebbets Field Dodgers and author of the acclaimed ‘The Boys of Summer,’ chronicle of their star-crossed career in Brooklyn.
    Al Campanis should have known these canny old throwers wouldn't give him anything good to hit, that they would mix them up on him pretty good. Al should have waited for his walk.
    But Al didn't go up there to bunt. These pitches must have looked like gopher balls to him because he kept trying to drive them out of the park.
    Al drove him out of the park. On pitches the rawest rookie should have taken.
    The program was supposed to be a tribute to Jackie Robinson and the 40th anniversary of his breaking the color line in the grand old game, but Koppel soon got around to asking Campanis why there weren't any black managers, general managers and owners.
    Al should have let the pitch go by. It was a pitcher's pitch. High and inside. But Al must have thought it was right in his wheelhouse. He didn't notice it was curving.
    The answer as to why there aren't any owners is easy. Anyone can become an owner. All you have to do is buy a club. There are several for sale right now, including one by a man who seems to own two clubs at the moment which is not only expensive but, in baseball, illegal.
    George Argyros would probably be glad to turn the Seattle Mariners over to a Japanese conglomerate or two, or even an ayatollah.
    But Al scorned the easy hit and went for the seats. He took on the larger question. Koppel caught him leaning.
    "What I'm asking you," coaxed Koppel, "is to, you know, just peel it away a little bit. Just tell me why you think . . . (there is) still that much prejudice in baseball?"
    The question was legitimate enough. That is to say it was not quite "When did you stop beating your wife?" and also not quite "Tell the court in your own works what you did with the baby then?"
    Al must have thought he was finally getting a fastball.
    It was like watching a baby carriage roll down the hill into a flood. A guy stepping into a noose, or onto a rattlesnake he didn't know was there.
    What Al peeled away wasn't pretty. It wasn't even sensible. He made it appear that he was speaking for a baseball Establishment that hadn't really learned anything in 40 years.
    Al began to strike out wildly in all directions, like a guy compounding a one-base error into a three-run error by firing the ball into the seats.
    He began spouting such arrant nonsense as the canard that blacks couldn't pitch — in a game which has had Satchel Paige, Bob Gibson, Vida Blue, Ferguson Jenkins, Joe Black . . . to name a few.
    The irony of it is, even in the height of Jim Crowism, no baseball man every believed black players were short in any department, cerebral or athletic. Being baseball men, they knew better.
    The rationalization for keeping blacks out of baseball was economic. White patrons wouldn't pay to see them, they said. In those days, they thought no one would pay to see two black fighters. What was Hagler-Leonard — $70 million?
    Willie Mays filled every ballpark in America. Some of the smartest men who ever played the game were black men — Joe Morgan, Lou Brock, Roy Campenella, Jackie Robinson himself.
    So, what was Al Campnis addressing himself to? Where did these offensive thoughts come from?
    Born on the Greek Island of Kos, raised in New York City, educated at NYU, which is hardly a hotbed of white supremacy, Campanis has never been anybody's candidate for closet racist. Generally sunny and gregarious, he is the last man in the world you would expect to sound like Senator Bilbo.
    He undertook to defend the indefensible. He undertook to protect the contemptible. It is not out of character for Al Campanis to be argumentative. It is out of character for him to sound like a guy in a white sheet.
    Opening day in baseball is supposed to be a celebration. It is the day you raise pennants, hopes and the hot dog stands. It is like a wedding in the family.
    Dodger Stadium's opener Thursday was like a wake. Players didn't joke. Newsmen tiptoed around like pallbearers. The normally ebullient manager just looked glum. The team went out and got clobbered by the Giants.
    It is as if the whole organization has been demeaned. This is either the organization that made Jackie Robinson famous or the organization that Jackie Robinson made famous.
    Either way, it is a heritage clothes in righteousness. It has been compromised.
    Campanis had to go. He would understand that. You cut players when they start to hurt the club.
    But it will be a long time before a lot of us will understand. The Al Campanis we knew would never do anything Mr. Rickey didn't want him to do. And this is not what Mr. Rickey had in mind 40 years back.

Reprinted with permission by the Los Angeles Times.

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