A few elections after the enshrinement of Buzzie Bavasi and on the heels of the Walter O’Malley election, today we elect another Dodger, Al Campanis.
Campanis’ Dodgers won 2856 games over two decades in Los Angeles. He went to the playoffs six times and the World Series four times. His Dodgers won the title in 1981, and a squad that was a lot his won again in 1988. While he brought in only about 2/3 of the WAR on that team, he’s responsible for Orel Hershiser, the guy who could be described as the man who most made that title happen.
Speaking of Hershiser, Campanis seemed to have an excellent eye for pitching. His hurlers who posted 15+ WAR for the Dodgers include draftees Hershiser (43.2 WAR) and Bob Welch (33.3). He also bought Fernando Valenzuela (37.3), signed amateur free agent Ramon Martinez (26.2), and traded for Burt Hooton (36.5), Jerry Reuss (20.2), and Andy Messersmith (17.4).
On the hitting side, he drafted Mike Scioscia (26.0) and traded for Pedro Guerrero (32.6), Dusty Baker (19.9), and Reggie Smith (19.3). And we should also give him some of the credit as Scouting Director under Buzzie Bavasi for drafting Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, Ron Cey, and others.
There have been plenty of instances where a GM entered a similar initial scenario, that is, getting a position with a very talented team and strong organization, yet blew it. Haywood Sullivan is one. You might say that Herk Robinson was another. Ruben Amaro, of course. Frank Wren. Bill Bavasi. Gord Ash. So even if Campanis’ success is not unique, it’s still his. And it’s less frequent than we might think. Plus, Campanis took it multiple steps from there.
An impressive thing about Campanis is that he succeeded in three different scenarios. He completed the transition from the Drysdale Dodgers to the Garvey Dodgers. He kept the Garvey Dodgers at the top for a very long time. And he transitioned the Garvey Dodgers to the Hershiser Dodgers. And the team never had a lengthy down period under his watch.
Okay, but there’s an elephant in the room, right? Early in the 1987 season, preparing to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s Dodger debut, Campanis appeared on Nightline with Ted Koppel. And he made some racist statements. Just listen for yourself.
While I make no excuse for Campanis, I do attempt to explain by saying that he was a product of his times, a man born 100 years ago. He was far from perfect. Also, he should have lost his job.
Regarding Campanis’ comments, Steven Goldman put it better than I ever could:
“The important thing to remember is that no one who knew Los Angeles Dodgers general manager Al Campanis thought he was a racist before he went on TV and revealed himself to be one…. And Campanis wasn’t a racist—not in the rabid stars ‘n’ bars-waving, sheet-wearing sense of the word. He probably didn’t even know he was, until he found out along with everyone else.”
The Dodger first baseman at the time of Campanis’ comments was African American slugger, Franklin Stubbs. Stubbs was drafted by Campanis’ Dodgers in the first round of the 1982 draft. He was coming off a season in which he hit 23 home runs, leading the Dodgers and tied for tenth in the NL. He said of Campanis:
“To this day, I don’t think Al was a racist. He probably did more for black and Latin players than most people in this game.”
Racism didn’t go away when Jackie became a Dodger in 1947, when interracial marriage became legal in 1967, when Frank Robinson became manager of the Indians in 1975, or when Barack Obama was elected to the U.S. presidency in 2008. I think we’re getting better. Maybe “less bad” is a more apt term. But incidents like that on Nightline and that which we seem to see on television every week remind us that we have far, far to go.
What Al Campanis said on television in 1987 is likely no worse than 100ish HoMErs have said behind closed doors or have thought. Voting for the HoME is difficult enough without trying to determine who is and is not a racist, or by what societal standards to even consider. And I know I don’t possess the moral authority to even try.
Al Campanis is now the 25th member of the Pioneer/Executive wing of the Hall of Miller and Eric. In the next few weeks, we’re going to add another.