Al Campanis, third-ranking executive in the Los Angeles Dodger organization, implied in a nationally televised interview Monday night that blacks had not advanced as far or as often in major league baseball's executive hierarchy because of some inherent shortcomings.
The interview took place on ABC's "Nightline," during a segment of the show in which Ted Koppel, the show's anchor, interviewed both Campanis and Roger Kahn, author of "The Boys of Summer," a best-selling book about the Dodgers. Both Koppel and Kahn took exception to Campanis' remarks during the interview, Koppel at one stage referring to statements Campanis made as "garbage."
When Koppel asked why there are no black managers in the major leagues, Campanis replied: "Mr. Koppel, you have to pay your dues. You generally have to go to the minor leagues. And the pay there is low."
To which Koppel asked: "Is there still that much prejudice?"
And Campanis answered: "No. It's just that they may not have some of the necessities to be a field manager or general manager. I don't know. How many quarterbacks are there? How many pitchers?"
Koppel said that many of those statements sounded like excuses people have been hearing for 40 years.
Campanis challenged Koppel as to how many black anchormen and black network executives his TV network had, and Koppel answered that there aren't enough, but that that has nothing to do with blacks' capabilities, but with whites holding power for a long time and denying it to blacks.
When Koppel continued to probe the question of why there aren't more blacks advancing faster in baseball, Campanis, the Dodger vice president for player personnel, replied that this country had had a similar problem since the Civil War.
"We have scouts in our organization who are black and they are very capable people," he said. "I have never said blacks aren't intelligent. Many of them are highly intelligent, but they may not have the desire to be in the front office."
Once again, Koppel objected, and Campanis responded: "I know that they have wanted to manage and many of them have managed. But they are outstanding athletes, very God-gifted and wonderful people . . . They are gifted with great musculature (sic) and various other things. They are fleet of foot and this is why there are a number of black ballplayers in the major leagues."
Then, later, Campanis said: "As far as having the background to be club president or president of a bank, I don't know. But I do know when I look at a black ballplayer I'm looking at him physically and whether he has the mental approach to play in the big leagues."
Earlier in the program, Campanis raised the question: "Why aren't blacks good swimmers? They don't have buoyancy." To which Koppel responded that, perhaps blacks hadn't had as much access to country club pools.
The interview, taped at the Houston Astrodome, site of the Dodgers' opening game Monday night against the Astros, was part of a commemoration of the 40th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's first year in major league baseball. Robinson broke baseball's color barrier by playing with the Dodgers in Brooklyn in the 1947 season.
Campanis, 70, was a member of the 1946 Montreal Royals, a Dodger farm team and played shortstop next to Robinson, the team's second baseman.
Currently, there are no black managers, general managers or owners in the major leagues. To date, Larry Doby, Frank Robinson and Maury Wills are the only blacks to have managed in the majors. Henry Aaron was general manager of the Atlanta Braves for a brief period, and now holds the title of vice president and director of player development. He is listed in the Braves' structure one step above General Manager Bobby Cox.
Campanis, contacted later Monday night at the Dodgers' hotel in Houston, said he hoped the interview had not been misunderstood.
"I thought it was a loaded question about blacks and baseball and I hope it didn't come out that I was prejudice or anything," he said. "I was raised around blacks and played with blacks and worked with blacks.
"I can't reconstruct the exact things I said. But I did say that they had to pay their dues like anyone in baseball. Like for me, I started in the minor leagues, then I spent 10 years as a scout, then I got this job. What I'm trying to say is that it takes time."
"I don't care whether you are white or black, you got to pay your dues. I don't know how you could misunderstand that or think it is prejudice.
"As far as I'm concerned, this (the interview) was no big deal. In fact, I said to him (Koppel) how wonderful athletes I thought blacks are. I also asked him why there are no black TV executives and anchor men and he didn't have an answer."
Times Staff Writers Randy Harvey in Atlanta and Sam McManis in Houston and Denver Post Sports Columnist Buddy Martin in Denver contributed to this story.