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Does Al Campanis Have The Necessities?

It is impossible to write anything about Al Campanis' career without discussing him unknowingly committing career harakiri on live national television, ironically making controversial and "grotesquely expressed remarks"1 on race on the ABC news show Nightline for an episode designed around the fortieth anniversary of Jackie Robinson's breaking major-league baseball's color line with his debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers.  (A partial transcript can be found in the box at the bottom of this article, after the jump.  A video clip of the first part of the appearance can be found on the ABC news website.)  Al Campanis was seventy years old at the time and a product of his era, having reached adulthood in the mid-1930s.  He once threw down his glove and challenged a player who was harassing his Montreal Royal teammate Jackie Robinson.  Manny Mota called Campanis "the father of Latin baseball."  None of that is an excuse for what he said on live television - things that sounded like tortured Archie Bunker arguments, on television as fiction fifteen years previous - putting a permanent blot that casts a shadow across his accomplishments with the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers.  It is left to the voters to decide how much weight to give Campanis' egregious Nightline appearance when considering Campanis' candidacy for the Vin Scully Lords of the Ravine.

I cannot write anything here that would briefly and eloquently summarize this issue better than Jon Weisman's essay on this topic, so instead I refer you to item 39 in his book "100 Things Dodger Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die" for his sober reflection.

Al Campanis first joined the Brooklyn Dodger organization as a player, getting a tiny cup of coffee with the big club at the end of the 1943 season.  Once his playing days ended, he worked as a scount and joined the Dodger front office in 1950.  As a scout, Campanis signed Dodger legends Sandy Koufax, Tommy Davis, Willie Davis, and Roberto Clemente (a would-have-been Dodger legend), which already makes him a major influence on the success of the Dodgers in the 1950s and 1960s.  In 1957 Campanis was promoted to be the Director of Scouting, the position he held as the franchise moved to Los Angeles.

Before the institution of the amateur draft in 1965 (when Rick Monday became the first player ever drafted), Campanis' department would be responsible for finding amateur talent and working to sign the players they wanted.  A number of Dodgers that would be important to the winning teams of the 1960s and beyond joined the team via this route while Campanis was in charge of scouting, including Don Sutton (Hall of Fame), Frank Howard (1960 Rookie of the Year), Jim Lefebvre (1965 Rookie of the Year), Wes Parker, Bill Singer and Ron Fairly.

The first three draft years paid some dividends for the Dodgers, but the misses far outnumbered the hits.  Notably, Tom Seaver was drafted in the 10th round in 1965 but did not sign.  How great would Tom Terrific have been pitching in Dodger Stadium?  Players of some note were drafted and signed in these years:

  • 1966 - Charlie Hough (as an IF), Bill Russell (as an OF), Billy Grabarkewitz (thought we had something in 1970 but injuries did him in), Ted Sizemore (1969 ROY)
  • 1967 - Steve Yeager, Bruce Ellingsen (the guy traded for Pedro Guerrero)

It was in the 1968 drafts that Campanis and the Dodger hit a gusher.  There were January and June drafts in those days and from those drafts the Dodgers selected and signed:

  • Steve Garvey (as a 3B, not a DB), Ron Cey, Davey Lopes (as an OF), Geoff Zahn (10 important starts in '74), Bobby Valentine (as an OF), Bill Buckner, Tom Paciorek, Joe Ferguson, Doyle Alexander

Buzzie Bavasi, General Manger of the Dodgers since 1951, left the position in June of 1968 to become the first GM of the expansion San Diego Padres.  At that time Al Campanis was the Dodger's director of scouting, a position he had held since 1957, and Fresco Thompson was named as his new boss.  Thompson became the unfortunate victim of a pancreatic problem sometime during the summer and passed away in November2.  By December it was announced that Campanis would become the "vice president in charge of player personnel and scouting", or colloquially the General Manager (GM), though Walter O'Malley was deliberately avoiding the use of that title3.  Showing he meant business, his first move was to trade his son Jim, a catcher, to the Kansas City Royals for cash and the loan of two players to the Dodgers' AAA team in Spokane.  His other trade of note that offseason was to trade pitcher Mike Kekich - later to become famous for a different kind of swap - for outfielder Andy Kosco, who provided some pop in 1969, leading the club with 19 homers, including an Opening Day grand slam.  Campanis would trade Kosco two years later for Al Downing who would go on to win 20 games for the Dodgers.  In June 1969 Campanis also brought one Dodger legend back into the fold and set the stage for another by acquiring Maury Wills and Manny Mota, dealing away Fairly and utility infielder Paul Popovich.

Kosco was Campanis' consolation prize.  Len Gabrielson led the powerless 1968 Dodgers with ten home runs, making the Dodgers somewhat akin to a dead-ball era team.  Reports were that he tried to obtain Orlando Cepeda, Jim Wynn, Richie Allen, Cleon Jones, Adolfo Phillips, Felipe Alou, Joe Torre, Tony Perez, Frank Robinson, George Scott, and Ken McMullen4.  He would eventually obtain four of those players in a on-going quest for a power bat.  But it was quite the quest before some success was found.

For the 1971 season Campanis, or "The Chief" as he was known throughout the Dodger organization, finally got Richie Allen (he would start going by Dick later), trading Sizemore and his fellow 1966 draftee Bob Stinson.  But an .863 OPS (151 OPS+) from the positionless man who saw time at LF, 3B and 1B, wasn't enough, and Campanis flipped him for Tommy John in the following offseason.

The new slugger in town would be Frank Robinson, obtained for Doyle Alexander and three other prospects signed while Campanis was GM.  But the 36-year old Robinson disappointed in 1972 by playing in only 103 games and providing only 26 extra-base hits.  Once again Campanis swapped a single-season slugger for a starter, dealing off Robinson, Singer, Valentine, Grabarkewitz, and Mike Strahler, a pitcher obtained in a minor-league draft during Campanis time as director of scouting.  The starter was Andy Messersmith, who in three years in L.A. would post a 53-30 record, 2.51 ERA (137 ERA+), and a 1.081 WHIP as the best or second-best starter on the staff in each season.  The previously desired ex-Dodger McMullen was also in the deal.

No new bat was imported for 1973, but Ferguson filled the role by smashing 25 HRs in an .839 OPS (135 OPS+) season.  Led also by the largely Campanis-built starting rotation of Sutton, Messersmith, John, Claude Osteen, and Downing, who all posted ERAs between 2.42 and 3.31, the first appearance of the storied Garvey-Lopes-Russell-Cey infield, a good season from CF Wille Davis and a peak year from 1964 amateur signing Willie Crawford, the 1973 Dodgers finished with fine 95-win season, but still frustratingly finished second in the NL West to Cincinnati's Big Red Machine.

For 1974 Campanis went back to his big bat wish list and traded Claude Osteen, who would immediately decline in effectiveness and last only two more season, for the Toy Cannon, Jimmy Wynn, one day after trading long-time Dodger CF Willie Davis for relief pitcher extraordinaire Mike Marshall.  With 1970 draftee Doug Rau stepping into the rotation to replace Osteen, the Dodger pitching was excellent once again.  Marshall would win the Cy Young award while pitching an astounding 208 1/3 relief innings with a 2.42 ERA (141 ERA+).  The team ERA was 2.98 (115 ERA+).  Wynn did not disappoint Campanis, manning CF and walloping 32 home runs - tied for third in the majors - in an .884 OPS (151 OPS+, eighth in the majors) season.  Campanis' maturing kids carried the rest of the offense, and the team posted a .743 (112 OPS+) season featuring Garvey's MVP award.  Three players had OPS+ in the 130s (Garvey, Ferguson, and Crawford), and Buckner, Cey, Yeager, and Lopes were all between 109 and 119 in OPS+.  Even Russell was at 96, the second-best of his career.  The end result was a 102-win season, finally pushing the Reds out of the top spot, a playoff series victory against the Pittsburgh lumber company, and a World Series appearance against the dynastic Oakland A's.

Campanis had established the core for the Dodger teams that would contend for NL titles and World Series appearances for the rest of the 1970s and into the 1980s.  Most readers are highly familiar with these teams, so I will only highlight some of Campanis' moves during those times.

  • Burt Hooton acquired for Zahn and 1969 draftee Eddie Solomon.
  • Sensing Wynn was breaking down, Campanis sent him in a package to Atlanta for Dusty Baker, primarily. 
  • In a mid-season deal he obtained Reggie Smith, a hugely important member of the NL pennant winners in 1977 and 1978, for Joe Ferguson and two minor-leaguers drafted 1972 and 1974.
  • 1971 first-round draft pick Rick Rhoden would ascend from the farm to be an effective starter before being traded for Jerry Reuss for the 1979 season.
  • Buckner was traded for flag-saving hero Rick Monday, in an attempt to fill the void in CF after Baker had been tried there.  Monday's decisive homer against Montreal in the 1981 League Championship Series made it all worth it.  Center field would become Campanis' new quest.  After Wynn's success, Baker, Monday, Bill North (obtained for 1972 draftee Glenn Burke), Derrel Thomas, Rudy Law and Ken Landreaux (acquired for 1977 draftee Mickey Hatcher and others) would all be tried there from 1976 to 1981.  Even Guerrero got 23 starts there in 1980!
  • Vic Davilillo provided some post-season heroics after being purchased from the Mexican League after being out of the majors for more than three full years.
  • Joe Ferguson was re-acquired in 1979 for two prospects Campanis' scouting department had signed as amateur free agents, Jeffrey Leonard and Rafael Landestoy.  Ferguson would pay dividends, especially in 1980 and the season-ending sweep of the Houston Astros at Dodger Stadium that forced a Monday playoff with the Astros for the NL West title.
  • Rick Sutcliffe, the Dodgers' 1974 first-round pick, won the 1979 Rookie of Year Award.  After an infamous tiff with manager Tommy Lasorda, he was banished to Cleveland for what appeared to be very little return, but Jack Fimple did become a folk hero in 1983 providing some steady catching and just enough offense to hold down the fort while Steve Yeager was injured, helping that Dodger team win the NL West.
  • Bob Welch was the Dodgers' first-round pick in 1977, provided an amazing moment in the 1978 World Series, and was a stalwart member of the rotation for the remainder of Campanis' years as GM.
  • Pedro Guerrero emerged as a star, forced his way into a now-veteran lineup, became a co-World Series MVP with Cey and Yeager in 1981, and put up several MVP-type offensive seasons in the 1980s.
  • Some of Campanis' early forays into free agency were decided failures, e.g., Dave Goltz and Don Stanhouse, but on the other hand, free agent Jay Johnstone provide valuable pinch-hitting and part-time play, culminating in a huge two-run pinch-homer in game four of the 1981 World Series.
  • The Dodger farm system continued to produce fine pitchers: Fernando Valenzuela (1981 ROY), Steve Howe (1980 ROY), Tom Niedenfuer, Alejandro Pena, Dave Stewart (traded for Rick Honeycutt), Sid Fernandez (the rotund yet effective lefty was traded away in an awful Campanis deal for Bob Bailor and Carlos Diaz), and Orel Hershiser.
  • Steve Sax, drafted in 1978, came up from the farm, broke up the famed Dodger infield of the 1970s and won the 1982 Rookie of the Year award, the last of four in the row for the Dodgers.  The other Mike Marshall, sometime heavy-hitting, sometimes awkward-fielding, was also drafted in 1978 and was a big part of the offense for the 1985 95-win Western Division champions and the 1988 World Champions.
  • In a 1985 deadline deal, Campanis acquired Bill Madlock for the final month of the season.  Madlock, foreshadowing Marlon Anderson and Ronnie Belliard, but coming with a much better pedigree (a career OPS of .820, 126 OPS+ and four batting titles coming into that season), blistered the ball to the tune of .360 / .422 / .447 / .869, 147 OPS+ down the stretch, as well as going 8 for 24, with a double, three home runs and six RBIs in the six-game League Championship Series with the Cardinals.  The cost was R.J. "the SQUEEZE" Reynolds (1980 draft, second round), Sid Bream (1981 draft, second round) and Cecil Espy (former first round pick of the White Sox in 1980, acquired for Rudy Law in 1982).
  • Campanis hired only one manager, Tommy Lasorda.

Ultimately, a General Manager is evaluated in hindsight by the performance of his team on the field.  Al Campanis was the GM for the Los Angeles Dodgers starting with the 1968 season and was the architect of each team up until he put together the team that comprised the 1987 Opening Day roster, totaling twenty seasons of Dodger ballclubs.  The end results were:

  • A 1725 - 1455 won-loss record, a winning percentage of .542
  • 1 World Championship, 4 National League championships, 6 NL Western Division titles, 8 second-place finishes
  • Only 6 seasons finishing worse than second place in the two division era

Those are high accomplishments, especially considering that the Dodger had to compete with the Cincinnati Reds in their own division, a team that featured numerous Hall of Fame players, lost a World Series to the Oakland A's who won their third championship in a row that year, and played their other three World Series against the dynastic New York Yankees.

Is the twenty-year on-field performance of the Dodgers with rosters built by Al Campanis, along with his work signing talent as the director of scouting for the first eleven years of the Los Angeles Dodgers existence enough to make him a member of the Walter O'Malley Suite of Vin Scully's Lords of the Ravine, despite the ignominious nature of his departure from the Dodgers and Major-League Baseball?  That is up to the voters to decide, but I believe this article makes a strong case that he played a major role in the success of the Dodgers for the first thirty years they were in Los Angeles.


Excerpts from ABC's Nightline, Al Campanis (AC) interviewed by Ted Koppel (TK)

TK -  Why is it that there are no black managers, no black general managers, no black owners?
AC -  Well Mr. Koppel, there have been some black managers, but I really can't answer that question directly.  The only thing I can say is that you have to pay your dues when you become a manager.  Generally you have to go to the minor leagues.  There's not very much pay involved, and some of the better-known black players have been able to get into other fields and make a pretty good living in that way.
TK - Yeah, but you know in your heart of hearts, you know that that's a lot of bologna.  I mean there are a lot of black players, there are a lot of great black baseball men who would dearly love to be in managerial positions, and I guess what I'm really asking you is to, you know, peel it away a bit.  Just tell me why you think it is.  Is there still that much prejudice in baseball today?
AC - No, I don't believe it's prejudice.  I truly believe that they may not have some of the necessities to be, let's say, a field manager or perhaps a general manager.
TK - Do you really believe that?
AC - Well, I don't say that all of them, but they certainly are short.  How many quarterbacks do you have?  How many pitchers do you have that are black?
TK - Yeah, but I mean, yeah, I've got to tell you that that sounds like the same kind of garbage we were hearing forty years ago about players, when they were saying, "Ah, not really, not really cut out."  Remember the days when you hit a black football player in the knees.  And you know, that really sounds like garbage, if you forgive me saying so.
AC - No, it's not garbage, Mr. Koppel, because I played on a college team and the centerfielder was black, in the backfield at NYU with a fullback who was black.  Never knew the difference whether he was black or white; we were teammates.  So it just might be that they, they - why are black men or black people not good swimmers?  Because they don't have the buoyancy.
TK - Oh, I don't, I don't - it may just be they don't have access to all the country clubs and the pools....
TK - I'd like to give you another chance to dig yourself out, because I think you need it.
AC - I have never said that blacks are not intelligent.  I think that many of them are highly intelligent.  But they may not have the desire to be in the front office.  I know that they have wanted to manage, and many of them have managed.  But they're outstanding athletes, very God-gifted, and they're wonderful people, and that's all that I can tell you about them.
AC - (asked to estimate the percentage of blacks among Dodger players)  Roger [Kahn has] mentioned the fact that about a third of the players are black.  That might be a pretty good number, and deservedly so, because they're outstanding athletes.   They are gifted with great musculature and various other things.  They're fleet of foot.  And that is why there are a lot of black major-league ballplayers.  Now as far as having the background to become club presidents, or presidents of a bank, I don't know.
TK - I must stay, I'm flabbergasted.  It seems to me we haven't made all that much progress, then, in forty years.

[1] Weisman, Jon, 100 Things Dodger Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die. Chicago: Triumph 2009.
[2] Los Angeles Times, November 5, 1968 and November 21, 1968
[3] Los Angeles Times, December 5, 1968
[4] Los Angeles Times, December 7, 1968
Draft, trade and statistical details verified with
The Nightline transcripts were produced by transcribing the ABC news website video clip and by piecing together quotes for various news articles on the topic. The order of the last four statements were determined by my reading of the various news articles and may possibly be in error, despite my best effort to determine the correct order.