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Harris and Koppel -- the latter of whom acknowledges having little baseball knowledge and even less interest in it -- both say they had never heard of Campanis."We learned that Campanis had roomed with Jackie Robinson," Koppel recently told ESPN's Jeremy Schaap, "and we thought, 'This will be perfect.'""Al Campanis embraced Jackie Robinson when it wasn't popular to do it and he was a good guy," Kaplan said recently, "and we thought, 'Who better to help us celebrate than a white baseball player who had celebrated this extraordinary black athlete?'"Koppel added, "I thought he was someone we could safely bring on to talk in rather bland if warm clichés about one of the great men in baseball."So Harris contacted Campanis on Friday, April 3, he says, and enlisted him to participate in what was "simply going to be a nice, sweet historical program." The segment with Campanis, Kahn and Newcombe was envisioned as an appetizer for the report on the sweet science's main event in Vegas, from ABC's Dick Schaap, Jeremy's father."We looked upon that part of the program [the discussion of Robinson] as being filler until the Hagler-Leonard fight was over," Koppel said.Al Campanis puts a cherry on top of the sundae, we're out of there [and on to the post-fight report]."The taped feature with Barber and others opened the show and concluded with Rachel Robinson, Jackie's widow, saying, "It's not coincidental that baseball in the 40-year period has not been able to integrate at any other level other than the players' level we have a long way to go."At that moment, the 12-round middleweight title fight 2,400 miles away had a long way to go.After a commercial, Koppel commenced an unexpectedly prolonged and profoundly painful interview.And right on schedule, as Jimmy was wrapping up his "tell," he caught a glimpse of Al standing in the hall outside the classroom."The teacher says, 'Jimmy, that's really good -- your tell was great, now what do you have to show me?'" Jimmy Campanis recounted recently at his home in Yorba Linda, Calif.The surprise his father was about to give him still brings a gleam to Campanis' eye more than a half-century later."I said, 'Let me go get it,' and I walk out to the door and there's Jackie Robinson standing there.And I bring him into my class and for the next two years I was the greatest guy in the world as far as the whole school was concerned, because I brought Jackie Robinson in on one day's notice.""He was the biggest star on the Brooklyn Dodgers at that time and it shows the kind of bond that they had," Campanis said.
Executive producer Rick Kaplan suggested Campanis, according to Richard Harris, who was in his first week as a "Nightline" producer assigned to book guests.
"And then, of course, you found out later he was."As "Nightline" went on the air that evening, Kaplan was in its Washington control room, dividing his attention between the show and updates Dick Schaap was giving him about the prizefight.
"If Hagler performs like Dick Schaap says he's going to perform, then he knocks the bejesus out of Sugar Ray Leonard like in two rounds," said Kaplan, who made it clear that the show's grand plan depended on an expeditious ending to Hagler-Leonard."You lead with Jackie Robinson, you celebrate him.
Maybe his public life and legacy would be remembered very differently.
When he was 11 or 12 years old, Jimmy Campanis says, he asked his father to help him with a school "show and tell" the next day about Jackie Robinson, figuring maybe his dad could get him a Robinson bat for the "show."Jimmy's father Al, after all, had been Robinson's teammate and fellow infielder a decade earlier with the Montreal Royals, the top farm team of the Brooklyn Dodgers, and they remained friends as Robinson achieved mythic status as a pioneer and player and as Campanis distinguished himself as a scout and then executive for the Dodgers.