|Born: November 2, 1916|
Kos, Dodecanese Islands, Kingdom of Italy
|Died: June 21, 1998 (aged 81)|
|September 23, 1943, for the Brooklyn Dodgers|
|Last MLB appearance|
|October 3, 1943, for the Brooklyn Dodgers|
Alexander Sebastian Campanis (born Alessandro Campani, November 2, 1916 - June 21, 1998) was an American executive in Major League Baseball (MLB). He had a brief major league playing career, as a second baseman for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1943; he was the first Greek player in MLB history. Campanis is most famous for his position as general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1968 to 1987, from which he was fired on April 8, 1987, as a result of controversial remarks regarding blacks in baseball made during an interview on Nightline two days earlier.
Al Campanis was born to Greek-speaking parents in Kos, a small island within the Dodecanese Islands, on November 2, 1916. Kos has been part of Greece since 1947, although, at the time of Campanis' birth, it belonged to Italy.
After graduating, Campanis became a professional baseball player, signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers. He was sent to play with several minor league teams: the Macon Peaches in 1940, Reading Brooks in 1941, Knoxville Smokies in 1942, and Montreal Royals in 1943. He eventually played for the Brooklyn Dodgers as a second baseman for seven games late in their 1943 season. He then served in the U.S. Navy in World War II, reaching the rank of Chief Petty Officer.
After returning from the war, Campanis rejoined the Montreal Royals. With Montreal in 1946, Campanis played 116 games at shortstop and was teammates with Jackie Robinson, who played 119 games at second base. Campanis remained with Montreal in 1947, while Robinson played for the Dodgers, breaking the baseball color line. Campanis' final season playing professional baseball was 1948, when he was player-manager of the Nashua Dodgers in New Hampshire. Pitcher Dan Bankhead, who in 1947 had become the first African American pitcher in MLB, won 20 games for Nashua in 1948.
Campanis soon afterward became a scout for the Dodgers, then eventually their scouting director. While a scout, he notably discovered future Hall of Famers Roberto Clemente and Sandy Koufax. Campanis moved with the team to Los Angeles when they became the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1958.
In 1968, Campanis became the Dodgers' general manager. In one of his first trades as general manager, Campanis traded his own son Jim, to the Kansas City Royals for two minor leaguers. Under Campanis, the Dodgers reached the World Series four times: 1974, 1977, 1978, and 1981. They lost the first three, before finally winning in 1981.
Campanis' remarks took place on the late-night ABC News program Nightline, on April 6, 1987, during the run-up to the 40th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's Major League Baseball debut (April 15, 1947). Campanis, who had played alongside Robinson and was known for being close to him, was being interviewed about the subject. Nightline anchorman Ted Koppel asked him why, at the time, there had been few black managers and no black general managers in Major League Baseball. Campanis' reply was that blacks "may not have some of the necessities to be, let's say, a field manager, or, perhaps, a general manager" for these positions. Elsewhere in the interview, he said that blacks are often poor swimmers "because they don't have the buoyancy." Koppel says he gave Campanis several opportunities to clarify, ("Do you really believe that?") or back down from his remarks, but Campanis confirmed his views with his replies. Koppel also pointed out that much of what Campanis was saying "sounds a lot like the garbage we heard 40 years ago." Campanis was fired less than 48 hours later.
The controversy was especially heated when it was pointed out that Campanis had participated in the decision over who would replace Walter Alston as the manager of the Dodgers. It had been a choice between the two coaches at the time, Tommy Lasorda and Jim Gilliam, and it raised the question of whether Gilliam had been passed over because he was black.
In an interview the next year, Campanis attempted to clarify that he was referring to the lack of African-Americans with experience in these areas, rather than their innate abilities. He also said that he was "wiped out" when the interview took place and therefore not entirely himself. Many other figures in baseball, such as Lasorda and African-American and Latin players who played for the Dodgers, have also spoken in Campanis' defense.
In 1988, Campanis also said that "Time has diffused the immediate hurt of April 6", and that "It has turned out to be a plus for baseball and myself." The Dodgers went on to win the World Series that year.
Campanis died on June 21, 1998, at his home in Fullerton, California, from coronary artery disease, at age 81. Campanis was survived by his sons, George and Jim, five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. He was interred in the mausoleum crypt at Loma Vista Memorial Park in Fullerton.