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.
April 19, 1987
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."
Now, about Campanis's suggestion that blacks lack the buoyancy to be good swimmers. In fact, some blacks have excelled in the water, notably UCLA's Chris Silva, an All-America sprint free-styler in the early 1980s, and Enith Brigitha of the Netherlands, who won two bronze medals in freestyle in the 1976 Olympics. To speak of blacks' lack of "buoyancy" is to speak from ignorance.
"There is no reliable published research showing that blacks as a group have greater or less body fat, body density or buoyancy than whites," says Georgia State University physiology professor David Martin. Some physiologists have speculated that blacks may have denser bones or even denser muscles, but as Martin says, "there is considerable variation among people in body density. To try to generalize about blacks versus whites, well, there are not very many black bowlers, either."
Socioeconomic reasons are probably most responsible for the fact that there aren't more Silvas and Brigithas winning big in the pool. As for Campanis's argument, it isn't very buoyant.
Searching for insight into America's recent failure to produce new tennis stars (SI, Dec. 15, 1986), the Omega Watch Corporation commissioned a survey of 336 top junior players competing in this week's Omega Easter Bowl tournament in Miami. The results underscore that tennis is simply too costly for thousands of young athletes to pursue. More than 61% of the players surveyed come from families with incomes of at least $60,000 a year. A whopping 71% said their tennis-related expenses amount to at least $5,000 a year; nearly a third said their annual tennis expenses equaled or exceeded $10,000.
Clearly, a huge pool of potential talent is going untapped. Even the players surveyed—an obviously affluent bunch—cited "financial burden" as the biggest problem facing U.S. junior tennis. A vast majority also supported the creation of national or regional training camps by the U.S. Tennis Association, which doesn't earmark one cent of its $38 million annual budget specifically for the development of junior players.
DOCTORS AND PATIENTS
It was a week for goodbyes and hellos at Madison Square Garden. First, the Knicks bade farewell to retiring 76er star Julius Erving before a game against Philadelphia. To fete Dr. J, the Knicks trotted out Dr. Ruth Westheimer, Dr. Joyce Brothers, Dr. Frank Field (a local weatherman), Dr. Tom Horton of the soap Days of Our Lives and Dr. Leonard (Bones) McCoy of Star Trek, who received a standing ovation.
Four days later, Knick forward Bernard King returned to action after having missed 173 games over more than two years because of an injured right knee (SI, March 30). He scored seven points and looked rusty, doing little to dispel suspicions that he had returned only because of a contract with Converse requiring him to play at least one game in order to collect payment (said to be as high as $200,000). Where Erving had been joined by other doctors, King was cheered by a fellow patient, tennis player Tracy Austin, who just happened to be on hand. Austin has been sidelined for three years with a bad back, making her perhaps the only nonretired pro athlete to have been out of action longer than King.
BILL LEE, RHINO
"If football players can run for office, why can't baseball players?" asked former major league pitcher Bill (Spaceman) Lee the other day as he launched his U.S. presidential campaign (he is challenging, among others, New York Republican Congressman Jack Kemp, the former NFL quarterback who has also announced his candidacy). Lee will run as a member of the newly formed U.S. offshoot of the Rhinoceros Party, an irreverent Canadian-based organization that has proposed such things as abolishing the law of gravity and eliminating unemployment by dissolving the agency that records it. Don't laugh: Rhino candidates received nearly 100,000 votes in the 1984 Canadian federal elections. "It's a legitimate campaign," insists the Spaceman.
Lee, who says he will ask gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson to be his vice-presidential running mate ("Who knows more about vice?"), wants to abolish guns and butter ("Both can kill you") as well as the designated hitter. If elected, he will try to institute compulsory exercise for all Americans. And like any good spaceman, he will throw his weight behind Star Wars.
"It wasn't a bad movie," he says.
NOW IT CAN BE TOLD
In New York City bookstores the new offerings include Met memoirs from players Gary Carter and Len Dykstra and broadcasters Ralph Kiner and Tim McCarver. Also on the shelves is a new version of Keith Hernandez's autobiography, whose cover billing promises "The exclusive inside story of the 1986 season."
'THE TRUE BOSS'
"He was the true boss in the world of sports," noted the West German newspaper Die Welt last week following the death from cancer of billionaire sporting-goods magnate Horst Dassler. Dassler, 51, chairman of the family-owned Adidas company, was a power broker without equal in the Olympic movement (SI, Feb. 9). He is said to have delivered the votes that elected Juan Antonio Samaranch president of the International Olympic Committee in 1980 and to have helped assure the awarding of the 1992 Summer Games to Samaranch's hometown of Barcelona.
West Germans knew Dassler as "the nation's shoemaker." Said former soccer star Franz Beckenbauer, now coach of the West German national team, "I never saw a man who worked that hard and was that dynamic."
THEY SAID IT
•Terri McCormick, the mother of 76er center Tim McCormick, after hearing that her son was going to bring teammate Charles Barkley home for dinner in two weeks: "I'd better start cooking now."
•Bruce Froemming, National League umpire, defending his eyesight to a group of heckling fans: "I can see the sun, and it's 93 million miles away."