Jim Campanis Jr. Explores Life As a Third Generation Pro Baseball Player In His New Book

by Rocco Constantino | Posted on Monday, June 13th, 2016
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On September 23, 1943 a player by the name of Alessandro Campani debuted for the Brooklyn Dodgers in a game against Stan Musial and the St. Louis Cardinals, serving as a double play partner with legendary Hall of Fame shortstop Arky Vaughan.

Unfortunately, his career lasted just seven games and after going 0-for-2 with two strikeouts against Johnny Vander Meer on the last day of the 1943 season, Campani’s Major League career would be over.  He left that off season to serve in the U.S. Navy during World War II and when he returned to pro ball in 1946, he was sent to play for the Montreal Royals, the AAA team of the Dodgers.  There, Campani was the shortstop where he mentored Jackie Robinsonhis double play partner at second base.

With Eddie Stanky and Pee Wee Reese manning the middle infield for the Dodgers and Vaughan now serving as a backup infielder, there simply wasn’t anywhere for Campani on the big club despite hitting .294 for the Royals.  He played for Montreal again in 1947 while the Dodgers were winning the World Series and then 19 games for the Nashua Dodgers before retiring as an active player.

Those accomplishments may not sound of the beginning of a decades-long baseball legacy that spanned three generations and the name Alessandro Campani may not ring a bell.  However, the player profiled did not go by his birth name.  The player described above went by the name Al Campanis and he was simply one of the most influential figures in Dodgers history.  For all he did with the Dodgers though, his most notable legacy could be starting a lineage in which three generations of Campanises played professional ball.

His son Jim played six seasons for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Kansas City Royals and Pittsburgh Pirates and his grandson Jim, Jr. was the third round draft pick of the Seattle Mariners in 1988 and played six seasons in the minor leagues.

Jim Campanis, Jr. has just released a book chronicling what life was like in a three-generation baseball family called Born Into Baseball: Laughter and Heartbreak at the Edge of The Show.

Campanis’ book is not your typical baseball biography.  It’s a collection of stories dotted with interactions with baseball royalty throughout the second half of the 20th century.

“This book is not the typical “memior” that takes the reader down a chronological path but rather it is a series of individual stories spanning the careers of my family in baseball,” said Campanis.  “As a third generation player I wrote stories ranging from my Grandpa Al’s baseball experiences as a player, scout and GM including Jackie Robinson, Roberto Clemente, Sandy Koufax and more.  Then I wrote stories from my dad’s generation and growing up in the clubhouse when he was a player.  My stories range from Growing up a Campanis, playing at USC, winter ball with funny and interesting things that hit me along the way.”

Any baseball fan over the age of forty not only relates the Campanis name with so much greatness with the Dodgers, but also is probably aware of the unfortunate controversy that ended his tenure as the Dodgers general manager.  Campanis does not shy away from the controversy in his story and hopes to create a more accurate picture of the type of man his grandfather was while also telling readers what it took to accomplish the rare genealogical feat of having three generations of professional baseball players.

“My family was able to do produce three generations of professional players—not easy to do. We were never the most talented players but we all had the ability to play at the elite levels due our drive and determination.”  Campanis continued, “One of the things I am trying to redefine in the book is my Grandpa Al’s true character.  He was not the person the media portrayed him as.  Today, dozens of people have stepped up to support him and to enlighten the public that Al Campanis didn’t have a prejudice bone in his body and he helped so many minorities during his decades in baseball.”

While Campanis will shed some light on the type of person Al was, the crux of the book are the entertaining stories from his life in pro ball as a Major Leaguer’s son and then as a pro himself.  Campanis offered a glimpse of one great story of his time as a minor leaguer.

“One quick story in the book is called ‘Orlando’s Finest.  The story is from a game in Orlando in 1991 where a couple in the front row was absolutely letting the umpire have right from the first pitch of the game.  They knew his name, his wife’s name and where he was from.  They lit him up every time he called a ball.  I joked with him when I went to bat and asked if he brought his fan club out.  Then to my surprise, when I went out to catch in the bottom of the first, they turned their venom onto ME!  Again they knew everything about my back-story including my Grandpa’s Nightline interview.  This went on until I noticed they were gone in about the 6th inning—but they had just gone to the concessions and returned with HUGE 32 ounce cups of beer.  They set those massive beers on the cement wall between the field and the stands.  That’s when a bit of divine intervention took over.  The very next pitch a foul ball was hit directly over their heads that might be playable.  As I starting chasing the ball I knew it would be in the stands several rows up—but while everyone was watching the ball—I made a B-Line to those loudmouths in the front row, stuck out my elbow, and drenched those jerks with 64 ounces of beer!  The crowd saw what I had done and began heckling the hecklers so bad those losers left the stadium!  The umpire told me I was his favorite player of all time.  My next at bat, in a visiting stadium, I was given a standing ovation as appreciation for drenching ‘Orlando’s Finest.'”

Born Into Baseball: Laughter and Heartbreak at the Edge of The Show is full of stories like this, but also shows the range of emotions players experience being such a visible part of the baseball landscape.  Campanis also touches on the tough decisions he had to make as a professional and during his time as a member of Team U.S.A. leading up to the 1988 Olympics.

“Representing the USA playing baseball was a dream come true—almost,” said Campanis.  “I did get to represent Team USA on the Junior National Team in 1985 with teammates John Smoltz and Ed Sprague.  Then in 1988 was on Team USA right up to the Olympics where I had to make a choice.  It was a tough choice and is chronicled in the book.  Sometimes decisions we make hurt us in one respect while blessing in others—that is what happened to me.”

Stories from Campanis’ record-setting career at USC, tales of his playing days in the minors and his stories from being a youngster around the Major Leagues in the 1970’s provided Campanis with enough material to keep his friends and family entertained throughout his adult life.  The positive reactions he received from those stories ultimately led Campanis to start recording them, which ultimately led to this book.  Campanis actually was inspired to begin this venture through interactions on Facebook.

“I used to tell friends and family these stories and one day decided to write a story down and post it on Facebook,” said Campanis.  “It was only a couple of paragraphs but the response I received was incredible.  So a few days later I posted another one and an even greater response.  This gave me the confidence to start getting more detailed with the stories and also delve into the emotional side of playing baseball.”

As the process continued, Campanis may not have had the structure of a book, but he did have the treasure trove of stories one would expect from someone who has been around so many influential baseball people.

“After about seven or eight months, I had written over 150 baseball-centric human-interest stories but had no clue what to do with them,” started Campanis.  “Then one of my Facebook friends, Tom Owens who is an author, introduced me to Walt Friedman, publisher of Summer Game Books.  Walt asked me to send him my “manuscript”—I laughed because it was 450 pages of random stories. But he told me he would look for common themes and bunch them together.  It took him a while but he narrowed down 100 stories and asked me to tweak several of them.  By tweaking I mean he asked to expound on a certain topic within a story or to edit down another section.  This editing process was intense but led to the nice flow the book ended up having.  So in other words—this book was an accident!”

Accident or not, Born Into Baseball: Laughter and Heartbreak at the Edge of The Show has been garnering positive reviews online and Campanis has been actively promoting his book with his father.  They have even offered specials through his website, www.bornintobaseball.com, where fans can buy copies of his book signed by Campanis junior and senior while supplies last.

Campanis has had many influences during his time in the sport and they not only helped shape him as a player, but also provided material for his book.

“There are a few coaches that were really hard on me but I knew they also really cared and wanted me to improve.  The first was Coach Mike Gillespie at USC.  He really turned me around,” said Campanis.  “Also Coach Jim Gattis who helped me cut down my swing when I played for him in summer ball in Alaska in 1987.  I look back at lessons I received from various coaches and players and realize I took pieces of what my dad showed me, plus pieces from Bill Buckner, Jim Lefebvre, Tommy Davis, Ralph Dickensen and more and created my own personal approach to hitting.  I also had a lot of help developing into a good catcher from Bob Boone, Chad Kreuter, Roger Hansen and P.J. Carey.”

While all of those people surely had a tremendous influence on Campanis as a player and person, his path to the publication of this book was set more than 25 years before he was born when the Brooklyn Dodgers took a chance on a 24 year old kid born in Greece by the name of Alessandro Campani.

Born Into Baseball: Laughter and Heartbreak at the Edge of The Show is currently available on Amazon or through the book’s website, www.bornintobaseball.com.  You can also follow the book’s Facebook page for upcoming events and further information about the book.

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Rocco Constantino
About the Author

Rocco is the author of 50 Moments That Defined Major League Baseball (Available on Amazon now!) and former Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. He is also a die hard Mets fan going back to the awful early 80's and ready for the revival. D2 NCAA softball coach and athletics administrator. Follow Rocco on Twitter @mlb100years.

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