Los Angeles Dodgers: Have African-American Players Progressed Since Al Campanis?

Dexter RogersCorrespondent IApril 6, 2012

Today is the 25th Anniversary of Al Campanis’ disturbing comments about African-American baseball players. Campanis’ outlandish comments without question shook up Major League Baseball, the sporting world and the African-American community.

Here is what Campanis stated 25 years ago to the day on Ted Koppel’s Nightline:

KOPPEL: Mr. Campanis, it's a legitimate question. You're an old friend of Jackie Robinson's, but it's a tough question for you. You're still in baseball. Why is it that there are no black managers, no black general managers, no black owners?

CAMPANIS: 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 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.

KOPPEL: Yeah, but you know in your heart of hearts -- and we're going to take a break for a commercial -- you know that that's a lot of baloney. 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 little bit. Just tell me, why you think it is. Is there still that much prejudice in baseball today?

CAMPANIS: 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.

SAN DIEGO, CA - APRIL 5 : Magic Johnson (L) sits with Frank McCourt during the game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Diego Padres in the home opener at Petco Park on April 5, 2012 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)
Denis Poroy/Getty Images

KOPPEL: Do you really believe that?

CAMPANIS: 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?

KOPPEL: Yeah, but I mean, I gotta tell you, that sounds like the same kind of garbage we were hearing 40 years ago about players, when they were saying, ''Aah, not really -- not really cut out --" Remember the days, you know, hit a black football player in the knees, and you know, no --" That really sounds like garbage, if -- if you'll forgive me for saying so."

CAMPANIS: No, it's not -- it's not garbage, Mr. Koppel, because I played on a college team, and the center fielder was black, and 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 just be -- why are black men, or black people, not good swimmers? Because they don't have the buoyancy.

KOPPEL: Oh, I don't -- I don't -- it may just be that they don't have access to all the country clubs and the pools. But I'll tell you what, let's take a break, and we'll continue our discussion in a moment.

Watch the Campanis interview and feedback here.

Some have suggested his remarks have helped baseball and diversity. 

Has it?

Earlier in the week, I watched ESPN’s Rob Parker and Skip Bayless on ESPN’s First Take suggest Campanis’ remarks have helped diversity in baseball. They acted as if Campanis’ remarks were the greatest thing since sliced bread.

I beg to differ.

Parker tried to dilute the true essence of Campanis’ blunder by talking about the Hispanic presence in baseball and the fact more women are involved in the game.

Excuse me, but Campanis did not suggest Hispanics did not have the "buoyancy” to be great swimmers.

Campanis did not assert that women “lack the necessities” to be great leaders or field managers. His comments were squarely placed upon his feelings about African-Americans.

It appalls me how the likes of Parker and Bayless simply spin situations like this to suit their agenda while ignoring the facts. So the million-dollar question is, where is all of this great change we’ve seen over the last 25 years as a result of Campanis’ blunder?

Let’s examine the facts, shall we.

According to The Institute of Diversity and Ethics in Sports, when Campanis made his blunder, African-American players comprised just over 30 percent of Major League Baseball. 

Today that figure is 8.5 percent.

When Campanis made his racist comments for the ages, there were no African-American field managers. 

Last year, there were just two African-American managers to open the season. They were Ron Washington and Dusty Baker.

When Campanis made his blunder, there was no predominate African-American ownership. 

Today that figure is still zero—baseball has never had an African-American as a predominate owner. Major League Baseball has one Latino predominate owner in Arturo Moreno.

Again, where is this great progress that’s transpired the last 25 years?

I know the media made a big deal of Magic Johnson becoming a Major League Baseball owner, but he is not the owner. Sorry folks, but Magic Johnson owns a minority stake of the Los Angeles Dodgers. He will largely serve as a pitchman and help to market the team.

I really like Magic Johnson. If I could play basketball like any player in their prime, it would be Magic. I have a lot of respect for him as a player and for much of what he’s accomplished off the court.

But when it comes to controversial issues, Magic is largely silent. He doesn’t get involved in the true issues that really need to be addressed in the African-American community. Nor does he delve into topics such as race, gender and political issues.

Magic is a great businessman. He’s created a lot of jobs for others, but the African-Americans need more. A segment of the African-American community needs to learn how to be owners and producers, not employees and consumers. Magic could provide guidance if he so desired.

But as we all know, controversy that addresses real issues typically does not bode well for business. I guess with respect to the latter Magic has chosen to throw one of his customary no-look passes.

Back to Campanis.

Yes, Bob Watson and Kenny Williams were general managers of World Series-winning teams in 1996 and 2005, respectively. Cito Gaston won back-to-back World Series as a field manager in 1991 and 1992. Bill White was the former president of the National League. 

How are the latter accomplishments directly attributable to Campanis?

There has not been any significant change: In my opinion things have gotten worse. MLB has not reached out to the African-American athlete. The game tends to be more comfortable with Hispanic players—who comprise 28 percent of the league as players—and I don’t have an issue with that whatsoever so long as opportunities are administered fairly.  With regard to the latter, African-Americans are clearly being shut out.

The facts indicate there has been a decrease in African-American players, no significant increase in field managers and no predominate ownership.

So, once again I humbly ask, what has transpired that has been so great since Campanis’ blunder?

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