Jim Campanis Jr.: Former Seattle Mariners Catcher Prospect Recounts Career
Baseball fans are typically enthralled by highly regarded prospects. After all, they are the possible future of their respective team, as long as everything goes well with their development. Unfortunately, just being young and talented isn’t an automatic key to a lengthy big league career. Competition is fierce and there are never any guarantees. Jim Campanis, Jr., once one of the most coveted young catchers in the game, went through all of the ups and downs and saw his career end at the threshold of the majors. Years after he stopped playing, he has plenty to say about his career.
Baseball courses through the blood of the Campanis family. Jim Campanis, Sr. and his father Al Campanis both played major league ball, and Al went on to work in big league front offices. With a lineage like that, it was practically ordained that Jim Jr. would follow on their path.
Following a stellar high school career in California during the 1980s, Campanis upped his game even more at the University of Southern California. A catcher, he accumulated an array of awards and recognitions, culminating in his selection in the third round of the 1988 draft by the Seattle Mariners.
Although he put up very solid numbers in the minor leagues, he never got the promotion that would have made him the third Campanis in the majors. Following the 1994 season, he retired from playing, having posted career minor league numbers of a .254 batting average, 56 home runs and 239 RBIs in 575 games.
Since hanging up his catching gear, Campanis has led a busy life across varied interests. However, he is still deeply connected with his family game and on Opening Day, 2016 he will be releasing his book, Born Into Baseball, published by Summer Game Books. It will not only chronicle his career in baseball but also delve into other topics such as his grandfather Al’s controversial interview with Ted Koppel in 1987. It’s sure to be a fascinating read.
To connect with Jim, or to look for more information about his upcoming book, give him a follow on Twitter. Keep reading to see what he had to say during our recent exchange of emails.
Jim Campanis, Jr. Interview:
Your grandfather Al and father Jim were both major league players and involved in the game in other capacities; please describe their “baseball” impact on you.: I was literally “Born Into Baseball” so I wrote a book of dozens of baseball stories from my grandpa, dad and my experiences in the game we love so much. When I was five years old, I would shag batting practice and could catch giant fly balls so when I entered Little League I was pretty advanced compared to the other kids. It kept me one step ahead all the way into pro baseball. My very first memories in life are around baseball.
Who was your favorite team and player growing up, and why?: My grandpa was the GM of the Dodgers when I was growing up, so that was my team. I also was a batboy and knew the players personally. They called me “Little Campy” and treated me very well, except for one guy who I wrote about in my book; the same guy my grandpa gave a bunch of extra chances after he kept screwing up.
How did you end up going to USC and what was your experience like there?: I always loved USC since my grandpa and Rod Dedeaux were friends. But Rod couldn’t offer me a full scholarship, so I verbally committed to Cal State Fullerton, who offered me a full ride. When I went to sign my letter of intent the secretary called in sick that day so it wasn’t prepared. I was disappointed but was told to return the next day. That night, Coach Dedeaux called and offered me Randy Johnson’s scholarship and I signed the next day with Don Buford. USC has the ULTIMATE network. My teammates included relatives of famous musicians, actors, producers, golfers, baseball players, football players and even two general managers. We really gelled as a group and I maintain friendships with dozens of guys from 30 years ago.
What are the most important traits of being a good catcher?: Profound knowledge of hitter’s weaknesses and tendencies. Calling a great game is more important than catching a great game. The thing about catching is if your name is mentioned on defense for anything but throwing out runner it’s a bad thing. If you are NOT mentioned in the game you played a GREAT game that day and no one knew except the pitchers.
What’s the story of the party you threw as a teenager that was crashed by Bret Boone?: Yeah… My parents made the mistake of trying to take a little weekend vacation in like 1986. A bunch of my USC teammates rolled to my parent’s house in Orange County and took over the high school party my sisters started. We were charging kids at the door $5 and made several hundred bucks that night! Then Boonie and his local high school buddies rolled up. I had known Bret since he was 12, so we chatted up how great USC was and he said it was on his list of schools. He ended up coming in for the 1988 season and immediately made an impact on our team. We were later teammate in the minors and are still friends.
What was your draft experience like, and how was playing in the minor league system of the Seattle Mariners?: This is a story in my book. My grandpa told me I was drafted but would not tell me by who except that it was an American League team. So that night my mind was racing thinking I would be a Yankee or Tiger or Angel…but a freakin’ last place Mariner? They are good now but in 1988 they were by far the poorest and cheapest organization in baseball. Yet they were stacked in the minors with high draft picks like Griffey. If I would have been drafted by the Royals that year my career would likely have been very different.
Who had the best stuff of any pitcher you ever caught?: That is impossible to answer since no one could consistently be lights out. Randy Johnson, Roger Salkeld, Mike Hampton, Jim Converse, Roberto Hernandez, Jeff Nelson, Ron Villone, Billy Swift and Derek Lowe come to mind as guys who were unhittable at times.
Your grandfather’s interview with Ted Koppel in 1987 garnered huge national attention. What was its impact on you, as a college student at the time, and now later in life?: A BIG part of my book. When the last name on the back of your jersey said “Campanis” in the late 80’s and early 90’s everyone knew it from that interview. To this day, I still get people asking if I am related that that racist, which he wasn’t, and we have hundreds of examples of work with minority and international players and coaches to prove it. Part of my motivation to write my book (due out Opening Day 2016) is to enlighten as many people as possible to the real man behind the controversy. We are hoping to re-write his legacy.
How disappointed were you that you did not reach the major leagues?: When you can’t control the outcome of things it’s frustrating. When I was on the 40-man roster in 1992, my Double-A manager called me into his office in late August to inform me I was going up to the big team for a cup of coffee in a few games. I was so excited. Three pitches into that game after he told me Willie Greene fouled a ball off and snapped my pisiform bone in my left wrist. Season over. No call up and taken off the roster never to return. That was literally a tough break that I couldn’t recover from physically or within the Mariners catching depth chart. I did have some “Bitter Years” as I chronicled in my book after my last release. It still feels like unfinished business and maybe another motivation for writing the book was to somehow get to the “Bigs” in another way. I’ve come to grips with it now but in my mid 30’s I was dealing with the loss of my ability to play baseball at an elite level ever again. It was like a death of someone close to me but I didn’t understand that until recently.
Now that you are done playing, what are you up to?: I’ve done a lot of the things I dreamed about outside of baseball after I stopped playing. I’ve played guitar and written songs since I was 15, so I played in local bands, recorded and then took the music to my marketing jobs making jingles. Some are on the radio in LA! I also wrote a punk rock song this year that is currently on a Rap album (I know, Rap?) that hit #8 on the Billboard charts in September called “Sink or Swim” by the Kottonmouth Kings. Right out of baseball, I worked for radio stations selling airtime then moved into my own ad agency called “Campy Media” for the last 15 years. I’m doing that part time now as I’m getting into technology with SaaS (Software as a Service) for a Fortune 1000 company. Hey, gotta keep growing, right? The book “Born Into Baseball” is scheduled to be released on Opening Day 2016 from Summer Games Books. I’m very excited about the book and hope to share an insider’s view of our beloved game.