THE CAMPANIS AFFAIR
Ted Koppel realized exactly what was happening. "I'd like to give you another chance to dig yourself out," the host of ABC-TV's Nightline show told Dodger vice-president for player personnel Al Campanis on the air last week. The 70-year-old Campanis, long considered one of baseball's more notable equal-opportunity recruiters, had just stunned both Koppel and a national TV audience by saying that the reason baseball has no black managers or general managers is that blacks "may not have some of the necessities" to hold such jobs. "Why are black men, or black people, not good swimmers?" Campanis said in an aside. "Because they don't have the buoyancy."
By the end of the show, which had been planned as a tribute to Jackie Robinson, Campanis's half-century-long career was shattered. Two days later, facing threats of public protests by black groups, the Dodgers forced him to resign. "He just said what a lot of baseball people have been thinking for years," said Oriole coach Frank Robinson, who in 1975 became the first black manager in the majors. "I'm glad it's finally out in the open, so we can address it."
Baseball has hired shamefully few blacks for management positions. According to a USA Today survey, while blacks make up about 20% of all major league players, they hold just 17 of 879 top administrative jobs in the sport. "I didn't know one of the qualifications was to be a swimmer," said Boston's Don Baylor, who aspires to be a manager or general manager someday.
Among blacks, only Robinson (three years in Cleveland, four in San Francisco), Maury Wills ( Seattle, 1980-81) and Larry Doby (White Sox, 1978) have managed big league teams, and only the late Bill Lucas ( Atlanta, 1977-79) has served as a major league G.M. Currently there are no black managers at even the Triple A or Double A levels, and just a few in A ball.
Baseball executives cite all sorts of excuses for their sorry hiring record. "A black qualified to be a manager or general manager can make more money doing something else," says Houston owner John McMullen. McMullen did indeed try to hire former Astro second baseman Joe Morgan as his manager in 1985, only to fail because Morgan preferred to pursue private business interests and a broadcasting career.
Other executives contend that a number of black managerial candidates like Morgan, hitting instructors Bill Robinson ( Mets), Cito Gaston (Blue Jays) and Bob Watson (A's) and Braves coach Willie Stargell don't have the requisite minor league managing experience. However, white managers Lou Piniella, Pete Rose and Bobby Valentine never managed a minor league game.
Commissioner Peter Ueberroth, who has done precious little to improve the situation in his two-plus years in office, promised last week to make the hiring of blacks a top priority. He might look first at the American and National League offices, where the only minority employee is a shared black receptionist.
Baseball has traditionally drawn its Earl Weavers and Gene Mauchs from the ranks of utility infielders and career minor leaguers. Why not pay more attention to blacks with similar backgrounds? "No one ever pushed us to even think that way," said one general manager.
Possibly, baseball's leaders will now begin to think that way. Said Hank Aaron, the Braves' director of player personnel and the majors' highest-ranking black executive, "Maybe Campanis did everyone a favor."