Two years before their paths were to cross on the "Nightline" program that has forever been engraved in the lore of major league baseball, Al Campanis and Roger Kahn had a moment in time that left Kahn forever grateful.
And so it was with a sense of sadness, as well as irony, that the world-famous author of "The Boys of Summer" talked about Campanis, who died Sunday, at the age of 81.
On Father's Day.
"It was 1985, and my son, Roger Laurence, was at Santa Monica City College," Kahn said from his home in New York. "My boy was a good athlete, pretty good hitter in high school and playing at Santa Monica City College.
"So, one time that year, when I was in L.A., I told him we'd go to Dodger Stadium. It was about that time that he had been telling me that he thought he wanted to become a major league ball player.
"Like any other father, I certainly would have loved that, especially since I'd been so involved in baseball all my life as a writer. And my son was getting into drugs at that time too, so the thought of a baseball career was comforting.
"But I also knew that he was never going to be a major league player. Just wasn't far enough along, and he was already 20.
"So I took him to see Al, and I didn't know what he was going to say, but after awhile, Al said, 'Well, son, you have a good body and because your father is who he is, we could probably get you a minor league contract. But I think the best thing for you is to enjoy playing baseball. Do it for fun. And go back to college and hit the books. That's the best thing for you right now.' "
Roger Laurence Kahn went back to college, eventually transferring over to UCLA.
Two years later, his father, a man who has sold more than 3 million copies of "Boys of Summer" and whose baseball beat work with the New York Herald Tribune in the 1950s, his later work for Sports Illustrated and the books he has written made him one of the best-known sportswriters in the country, was summoned to be a guest on network television. It was Ted Koppel's "Nightline" show, and it was to air after the 1987 season opener between the Houston Astros and the Dodgers in Houston Monday night, April 6.
"This was like a lot of television things," Kahn recalled. "It was live, but not entirely spontaneous. They asked me what I would like them to ask me, and since the show was to center on the 40th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in the major leagues, I said to ask me what Jackie would think of the state of blacks in baseball management today. I always figured, since Jackie was a capitalist, he'd be angry at the lack of opportunity still there."
So ABC sent a limo for Kahn, who would do the show from a studio in New York City.
Campanis, executive vice-president and general manager of the Dodgers, had been called the previous Friday to make his appearance on the same show. He had accepted, but hadn't told many people, especially Steve Brener, then the Dodgers' public relations director.
"Al was at the game in Houston, sitting in the press box with a couple of sportswriters, Gordie Verrell and Matt McHale," Brener recalled, "and somebody from "Nightline" came up to me and asked me where he was. That was the first I heard of him going on. I knew they were going to do the show, I just didn't know Al was going on it.
"So I went over and asked him about it. I told him I wasn't all that hot on him doing it, since the show can be controversial, and since I thought it was a last-minute thing. But he told me it was fine, and that they had called him the previous Friday and told them what they would ask him.
"I remember him telling me there was nothing to worry about."
It was 10:30 Houston time, 11:30 New York time, when it began. Kahn was in the New York Studio, Campanis sitting on a stool near home plate in the Astrodome.
"Just before we began," Kahn recalled, "I remember Koppel talking to me through the little plug microphone they had in my ear. He said, 'Mr. Kahn, I grew up in England and I don't know much about baseball, so you may have to carry this show. I remember chills going down my spine."
"They asked me the question about what Jackie Robinson might think with the small numbers of blacks in management in baseball, and I answered that Jackie wouldn't like that. Koppel asked Al if Mr. Kahn's statement were true, and if so, why there weren't more blacks in management.
"And when he said that blacks lacked the necessities, my legs almost fell off my body."
As Koppel, sensing a big story, cut to a commercial, Brener was doing his normal post-game duties in the Astrodome. He stopped long enough to look down on the field and see Campanis sitting near home plate, surrounded by TV cameras.
"The show was on in the clubhouse that night," Brener recalled. "I just kind of glanced at it. People were watching it, but nobody said anything. The first inkling I had that anything was wrong was the next day, when Sam McManis of The Times called and asked me if I had heard what Al had said on "Nightline."'