On Sunday, baseball will celebrate the 65th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's first game in the major leagues. But 2012 also marks 25 years since one of the most infamous incidents surrounding Robinson's breakthrough took place.
To commemorate the 40th anniversary of Robinson becoming the first black man to play in the majors, ABC's Nightline devoted a portion of their Apr. 6, 1987 program to the occasion.
One of the guests Ted Koppel spoke to was Al Campanis, the vice president and general manager of the Dodgers. Campanis was a teammate of Robinson's on the 1946 Montreal Royals, tutoring him on playing second base. The two were also roommates that season.
Who better to bring on as a guest to talk about Robinson?
But what was supposed to be a light segment, basically meant to kill time before Nightline covered the Marvin Hagler-Sugar Ray Leonard boxing match, turned into one of the unforgettable moments in television history when Koppel asked Campanis why there weren't any black managers, general managers or owners in baseball.
Here's the pertinent clip from that segment.
Koppel gave Campanis plenty of opportunity to explain or walk back from his remarks about black players and coaches lacking "the necessities" and being "short." But Campanis actually made it worse the more he talked, citing the lack of black quarterbacks in football and black pitchers in baseball.
Inexplicably, Campanis even made a comment about black people not being good swimmers because "they don't have the buoyancy."
There may never be another such example of career suicide committed on the airwaves.
Some attempted to defend Campanis by saying he shouldn't have been in that position. At the time, he was 70 years old and appeared on the show after a game between the Dodgers and Astros from the Astrodome. Others who knew him, as explained in this ESPN.com article, said Campanis had a tendency to "mangle" the language and "bumble."
He meant experience, Campanis' defenders said, not intelligence. Just look at the man's work in baseball before calling him a racist.
Within 48 hours, with many community leaders calling for his job, Campanis resigned from the Dodgers. Of course, he resigned before he was fired. The team would've had to dismiss him in light of his remarks.
If you get a chance, I highly recommend reading the ESPN.com feature that recalls the events of Apr. 6, 1987, which includes an interview with Koppel, quotes from several who knew Campanis and a transcript of the remarks in question.
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