Al Campanis Legacy Needs Repair
Saturday, April 8 of 2017 marks 30 years since Al Campanis was asked to resign as an executive with the Los Angeles Dodgers. After more than 40 years with the Dodgers, Campanis was gone because of comments made after an April 6 game in Houston.
It is ironic and sad that Al Campanis would be removed from baseball because of something he said. The man could speak several languages and was regarded as a kind generous man to everyone. In 1987 he was 70 years old and he would lose his thoughts and jumble sentences when speaking. Regardless, the words did come out and “The Chief” had to go.
Early Al Campanis
At the age of 6, Al Campanis and his mother moved to the United States from his home in Kos, Greece (at the time Kingdom of Italy). As a football player at NYU, Campanis would room with a future sports legend named Howard Cosell. Before his life with the Dodgers began he would also serve in the United States Military.
In 1946 Al Campanis was with the Montreal Royals as a Dodger minor league short stop. Campanis offered to help the second baseman. Teach him how to turn the double play so he wouldn’t get hurt. Originally turning down the offer, Jackie Robinson would soon be taught by Campanis the nuances of playing second base like a Dodger.
Al and Jackie
The two were not only teammates but shared a room. Before Brian Piccolo and Gayle Sayers roomed together for the Chicago Bears, Campanis and Robinson were minor league roommates. Jackie Robinson became the first black player in Major League Baseball and Al Campanis was the first Greek player in Major League Baseball.
Al Campanis was known to have had three large photos on his office wall. Sandy Koufax was one, Campanis said the first time seeing him pitch compared to seeing the Sistene Chapel. Roberto Clemente was another. The third picture was of Jackie Robinson. I wonder if the Campanis critics have that kind of diversity on their office wall.
Working for the Dodgers
An excellent scout, Campanis was responsible for Sandy Koufax being a Dodger. Recommending they pay whatever it took to get him. Roberto Clemente was signed by Al Campanis for the Dodgers but later would be drafted off the minor league roster by the Pirates. The baseball scouts today still use the “60-80 grade scale” formulated by Campanis.
I remember Dodger catchers having a fluorescent orange color on their catcher’s mitt. Yes, Al Campanis receives credit for that idea, making it easier for pitchers to see the target at night.
One of the Campanis boys had an assignment for school, a “Show and Tell” and the boy had asked his father for a Jackie Robinson bat for the “Show.” The boy was going to describe to his class something about Jackie Robinson for the “Tell”. (I think the importance of integration but I don’t recall that detail for sure.)
When he completed the “Tell” he went to receive the bat from his father who he had seen waiting in the hall. His father had not brought the bat. Instead he had Jackie Robinson with him, the greatest “Show” a boy could ever put in front of his classmates.
In 1968 a young Dodger catcher named Jimmie was traded by the Dodgers General Manager to the expansion Kansas City club. Al Campanis was that General Manager and the player he traded was his own son. Sent to Kansas City where he could get more playing time.
Al Campanis Books
“My Turn At Bat” was to be an autobiography describing the life of Al Campanis but it was difficult to find a publisher. What we do have is “The Dodger Way To Play Baseball,” copyright of 1954. Written by Mr. Al Campanis, L.A. Dodgers Vice President and Director of Player Personnel. This is over 200 pages of how Dodgers were taught to play the game of baseball.
In the acknowledgements Campanis gives thanks to more than 15 people and states, “this book is not a one-man proposition.” Like that statement, a person who lives to almost age 82 should not have their life judged by a few minutes of an interview. An interview that probably should never have taken place.
There are two items sitting next to my bed. One is a copy of “The Dodger Way To Play Baseball.” The second item encloses four baseball cards of Duke Snider, Gil Hodges, Roy Campanella, and Jackie Robinson. How many of those four were aided by Al Campanis in some way? In 82 years how many people did Al Campanis help? The number is impossible to total.
My Thoughts On Al Campanis
Al Campanis in my mind would have been a pleasure to have a conversation with but I never got to know him. Looking at all he did in his life and reading comments of those who did know him I choose to think of him like this. A great baseball man who liked all people and if they weren’t a Dodger that was their tough luck.
It is difficult to think of Al Campanis without thinking of the few minutes of air time that ruined his legendary status as a baseball executive. It is impossible however, to deny that the man was good for baseball. I have not read a single negative statement about the man’s true character from anyone that knew Al Campanis. Don Newcombe, John Roseboro, Jack Robinson and his wife all are on record stating the man cared about everyone.
People that knew him best need to speak on his behalf this weekend about all that he helped accomplish. In the game of baseball, for the Dodgers, and for countless individuals. Koufax, Lasorda, Newcombe, Scully, Porter, Garvey, Hershiser, Monday, Baker, Lopes, Scioscia, Sax, Valenzuela are all still around. People screamed his name 30 years ago, the people who actually knew Al Campanis now need to repair his legacy.
By Scott Hortness April 7, 2017
Dodgers 42 photo by Joshua Livingston https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
4 infielders photo by marco antonio torres https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
Koufax photo couresy of ozfan22–it is public domain