It was a year ago tonight, in a darkened and virtually empty Houston Astrodome, that Al Campanis sat in a chair near home plate, stared into the solitary eye of a television camera and awkwardly began a process that may eventually change the face of baseball.
In response to questions posed by Ted Koppel on the ABC show "Nightline," Campanis said that blacks "may not have some of the necessities" to be field managers and general managers. He said, " . . . how many (black) quarterbacks do you have? How many pitchers do you have that are black?" He said black people don't make good swimmers "because they don't have the buoyancy."
The remarks came as a shock to those who had known Campanis during his 46-year career as player, manager, scout and executive with the Dodgers.
Amid the firestorm that followed, Campanis said he had merely made a mistake in semantics, that he was attempting to say that in many cases blacks had rejected opportunities to manage in the minors and, thus, lacked the necessary experience to qualify for major league jobs.
He said his record as a scout and major league executive showed that he was anything but racist. He said that he was disoriented by the eerie conditions in the Astrodome, frustrated by the Dodgers' loss to the Astros in that night's season opener at Houston, tired at the end of a day that had begun with an early morning flight from Los Angeles. He said he was flustered by his inability to hear Koppel clearly and surprised by the line of questioning considering that he thought the show was to honor former teammate Jackie Robinson on the 40th anniversary of his major league debut, breaking the color barrier.
Under pressure from civic and civil rights officials and organizations, the Dodgers fired Campanis as vice president and director of player personnel. The red light of the ABC camera became a full-scale spotlight that illuminated the sport's hiring pattern and the absence of minorities in virtually all roles.
Commissioner Peter Ueberroth, who had already dedicated the 1987 season to Robinson and already expressed concern for the lack of minorities and urged the owners to correct the situation in a meeting Sept. 27, 1986, had a series of meetings with civil rights leaders such as the Rev. Jesse Jackson and NAACP executive director Dr. Benjamin Hooks.
Ueberroth responded in the following manner:
--He hired Clifford Alexander and Janet Hill of the Washington consulting firm of Alexander and Associates to work with the 26 clubs on the development of affirmative action programs.
--He appointed Dr. Harry Edwards, a sociology professor at Berkeley, as a special consultant to develop a pool of former minority players interested in baseball employment.
Now, a year after Campanis' appearance on "Nightline," it is generally agreed that there has been widespread progress and improvement in the hiring of minorities, but a lingering lack of change at the top--in the decision-making roles of general manager and field manager.
There is also some resentment among former players that many of the hirings have involved people with no baseball experience, particularly on the field.
"Anyone can hold a stopwatch and speed gun and measure the tangibles," said Dusty Baker, now first base coach with the San Francisco Giants, "but do they know the intangibles like a former player would?"
According to statistics compiled by the commissioner's office, which has filled 7 of its last 9 openings with minorities, 542 people were hired by the 26 clubs for front office and on-field positions such as scouts, managers, coaches and instructors at both the major and minor league level since April 1 of last year.
Of the 542 hirings, 180 or 33% were minorities. Breaking it down further:
--Of the 282 front-office hirings, 125 were women and 102 were minority men.
--Of the 262 on-field hirings, 78 or 30% were minorities--all men.
One year after only 2% of all front-office positions were held by minorities, the figure is now more than 10%. There are now minority vice presidents of administrative personnel, communication and finance. There are minority controllers and broadcasters, as well as minority directors and assistant directors of community relations, community services, data processing, financial and tax accounting, human resources, marketing and public relations.
But at the more visible, pivotal and news-making levels, the door remains virtually closed. In the year since Campanis:
--Nine teams changed general managers and not one chose a minority. They are the Dodgers, who picked Fred Claire; the Chicago Cubs, Jim Frey; the Cincinnati Reds, Murray Cook; the Houston Astros, Bill Wood; the Montreal Expos, Bill Stoneman; the Baltimore Orioles, Roland Hemond; the Cleveland Indians, Hank Peters; the New York Yankees, Lou Piniella; and the Philadelphia Phillies, Woody Woodward.