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Roy Campanella

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Roy Campanella
Campanella with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1956
Born: (1921-11-19)November 19, 1921
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Died: June 26, 1993(1993-06-26) (aged 71)
Woodland Hills, California, U.S.
Batted: Right
Threw: Right
Professional debut
NgL: 1937, for the Washington Elite Giants
MLB: April 20, 1948, for the Brooklyn Dodgers
Last MLB appearance
September 29, 1957, for the Brooklyn Dodgers
Career statistics
Batting average.282
Home runs261
Runs batted in1,023
Career highlights and awards
Member of the National
Baseball Hall of Fame
Vote79.4% (seventh ballot)

Roy Campanella (November 19, 1921 – June 26, 1993), nicknamed "Campy", was an American professional baseball player, primarily as a catcher. The Philadelphia native played in the Negro leagues and Mexican League for nine years before entering the minor leagues in 1946. He made his Major League Baseball (MLB) debut in 1948 for the Brooklyn Dodgers, for whom he played until 1957. His playing career ended when he was paralyzed in an automobile accident in January 1958. He is considered one of the greatest catchers in the history of the game.[1]

After he retired as a player as a result of the accident, Campanella held positions in scouting and community relations with the Dodgers. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1969.[2]

Early life and education


Roy Campanella was born in Philadelphia on November 19 1921 to parents Ida, who was black American, and John Campanella, son of Italian immigrants. Roy was the youngest of the four children born to the couple. They first lived in Germantown, and then moved to Nicetown in North Philadelphia, where the children attended integrated schools.[3]

He attended Gillespie Junior High School and Simon Gratz High School, although he left high school before graduating. Because of their mixed-race, Campanella and his siblings were sometimes taunted by other children in school who called them "half-breed". Campanella had athletic gifts that he used to great effect; he was elected captain of every sports team he played on in high school, but baseball was his passion.[4]

Playing career


Negro leagues


Of mixed race, Campanella was prohibited from MLB play as a result of the baseball color line. In 1937, at the age of 15, he began playing Negro league baseball for the Washington Elite Giants on weekends, subsequently dropping out of high school a few months later on his 16th birthday so he could play full time.[5][4] The Elite Giants moved to Baltimore the following year,[6] and Campanella became a star player with the team until 1945.[4][7][8]

Mexican and Venezuelan leagues


During the 1942 season, Campanella left the Baltimore Elite Giants after a spat with owner Tom Wilson. He played the rest of the season and the following 1943 season in the Mexican League with the Monterrey Sultans.[5] Lázaro Salazar, the team's manager, told Campanella that one day he would play at the major league level. Campanella subsequently returned to the Elite Giants for the 1944–45 seasons.

In 1946, Campanella played in the newly formed Venezuelan Professional Baseball League on the Sabios de Vargas team, which he was co-coach and led to the league championship.

Minor leagues


Campanella moved into the Brooklyn Dodgers' minor league system in 1946 as the Dodger organization began preparations to break the MLB color barrier with Jackie Robinson. His easy-going personality and strong work ethic were credited with his being able to move successfully between the races. Although Branch Rickey considered hiring Campanella to break baseball's color barrier, Rickey ultimately decided upon Robinson.[9]

For the 1946 season, Robinson was assigned to the Montreal Royals, the Dodgers' affiliate in the Class AAA International League. On March 18, 1946, Campanella signed a contract to play for Danville Dodgers of the Illinois–Indiana–Iowa League.[10] After the general manager of the Danville Dodgers reported that he did not feel the league was ready for racial integration, the organization sent Campanella and pitcher Don Newcombe to the Nashua Dodgers of the Class B New England League, where the Dodgers felt the climate would be more tolerant. The Nashua team thus became the first professional baseball team of the 20th century to field a racially integrated lineup in the United States.

Campanella's 1946 season proceeded largely without racist incidents, and in one game Campanella assumed the managerial duties after manager Walter Alston was ejected. Campanella was the first African American to manage White players of an organized professional baseball team. Nashua was three runs down at the time Campanella took over. They came back to win, in part due to Campanella's decision to use Newcombe as a pinch hitter during the seventh inning; Newcombe hit a game-tying two-run home run.

Major League Baseball

Campanella, circa 1953

Jackie Robinson's first season in the major leagues came in 1947, and Campanella began his MLB career with the Brooklyn Dodgers the following season, playing his first game on April 20, 1948. In later years, Robinson and his wife sometimes stayed with the Campanella family during some ballgames because adequate hotels for blacks could not be found in the city.[9]

After spending most of the beginning of the 1948 season on the bench, Campanella was assigned to the Saint Paul Saints, the Dodgers' affiliate in the Class AAA American Association, where he resided in the Rondo neighborhood. On May 18, Campanella become the first person to break the color barrier in the American Association when he entered a game. By early July, after having success against the league's pitching, he returned to the Dodgers.[11][12]

Campanella stayed at the Major League level and played for the Dodgers from July 1948 through 1957 as their regular catcher. In 1948, he had three different uniform numbers (33, 39, and 56) before settling on 39 for the rest of his career.

Campanella was selected to the All-Star Game every year from 1949 through 1956. With his 1949 All-Star selection, he was one of the first four African Americans so honored. (Jackie Robinson, Don Newcombe and Larry Doby were also All-Stars in 1949.)[13] In 1950 Campanella hit home runs in five straight games; the only other Dodgers to homer in five consecutive games are Shawn Green (2001), Matt Kemp (2010), Adrián González (2014–15), and Joc Pederson (2015).[14]

Campanella with teammates Jackie Robinson and Jim Gilliam in Japan, 1956

Campanella received the Most Valuable Player (MVP) award in the National League three times: in 1951, 1953, and 1955. In each of his MVP seasons, he batted more than .300, hit more than 30 home runs, and had more than 100 runs batted in. His 142 RBI during 1953 exceeded the franchise record of 130, which had been held by Jack Fournier (1925) and Babe Herman (1930). Today it is the second most in franchise history, Tommy Davis breaking it with 153 RBI in 1962. That same year, Campanella hit 40 home runs in games in which he appeared as a catcher, a record that lasted until 1996, when it was exceeded by Todd Hundley. During his career, he threw out 57% of the base runners who tried to steal a base on him, the highest by any catcher in major league history.[15] Campanella had five of the seven top caught stealing percentages for a single season in major league history.[16]

In 1955 (Campanella's final MVP season), he helped Brooklyn win its first World Series championship. After the Dodgers lost the first two games of the series to the Yankees, Campanella began Brooklyn's comeback by hitting a two-out, two-run home run in the first inning of Game 3. The Dodgers won that game, got another home run from Campanella in a Game 4 victory that tied the series, and then went on to claim the series in seven games when Johnny Podres shutout the Yankees 2–0 in Game 7.

Campanella caught three no-hitters during his career: Carl Erskine's two on June 19, 1952[17] and May 12, 1956[18] and Sal Maglie's on September 25, 1956.[19][20] "In my no-hitter...I only shook Campy off once," Maglie recalled. "He was doing the thinking, calling the pitches just right for every batter in every situation, and all I had to do was check the sign to see if I agreed and then throw."[20]

After the 1957 season, the Brooklyn Dodgers relocated to Los Angeles and became the Los Angeles Dodgers, but Campanella's playing career came to an end as a result of an automobile accident. He never played a game for Los Angeles.

Automobile accident


Campanella lived in Glen Cove, New York, on the North Shore of Long Island; he operated a liquor store in Harlem between regular-season games and during the off-season. After closing the store for the night on January 28, 1958, he began his drive home to Glen Cove. While he was traveling at about 30 mph (48 km/h), his rented 1957 Chevrolet sedan hit a patch of ice at an S-curve on Dosoris Lane near Apple Tree Lane in Glen Cove, skidded into a telephone pole, and overturned, breaking Campanella's neck. He fractured the fifth and sixth cervical vertebrae and compressed the spinal cord.[21][22] The accident left Campanella paralyzed from the shoulders down.[21] With physical therapy, he was eventually able to regain substantial use of his arms and hands.[23] He was able to feed himself, shake hands, and gesture while speaking, but he required a wheelchair for mobility for the remainder of his life.[24]

Campanella wrote his autobiography, It's Good to Be Alive, which was published in 1959; in it, he discussed his convalescence and partial recovery after his accident. Michael Landon directed a TV-movie based on the book, It's Good to Be Alive (1974), which was considerably fictionalized. Campanella was portrayed by Paul Winfield.

Post-playing career

Campanella with Dodgers manager Walter Alston and Yankees manager Casey Stengel during "Roy Campanella Night" at the L.A. Coliseum, May 1959

After his playing career and rehabilitation, Campanella remained involved with the Dodgers. In January 1959, the Dodgers named him assistant supervisor of scouting for the eastern United States and special coach at the team's annual spring training camp in Vero Beach, Florida, serving each year as a mentor and coach to young catchers in the Dodger organization.[25]

On September 27, 1959, Campanella appeared as himself in an episode of Lassie called "The Mascot" in which he coached the Calverton boys' baseball team and advised Timmy about a matter of cheating.

On May 7, 1959, the Dodgers, then playing their second season in Los Angeles, honored him with "Roy Campanella Night" at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The New York Yankees agreed to make a special visit to Los Angeles (between road series in Kansas City and Chicago) to play an exhibition game against the Dodgers for the occasion.[26]

The Yankees won the Thursday night game 6–2, with an attendance of 93,103, setting a record at that time for the largest crowd to attend a Major League Baseball game. The proceeds from the game went to defray Campanella's medical bills.[27]

On March 28, 1970, Campanella was named manager of the West team in the East-West Major League Baseball Classic, a charity exhibition All-Star game held in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. It was the first time he wore his Dodgers uniform since his career-ending accident.[28]

In 1978, Campanella moved to California and accepted a job with the Dodgers as assistant to the director of community relations, Don Newcombe, his former teammate and longtime friend.

A historic marker was installed in Nashua, NH by the Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire to celebrate the achievements of Campanella and Don Newcombe in 2023.[29]

Personal life


Campanella was married three times. His first marriage, to Bernice Ray on January 3, 1939, ended in divorce. They had two daughters together.

On April 30, 1945, he married Ruthe Willis, who brought her son David to the marriage. They had three children together (including a son, Roy Campanella II, who became a television director). Their marriage deteriorated after Campanella's accident; they separated in 1960. Ruthe died of a heart attack at age 40 in January 1963.

On May 5, 1964, Campanella married Roxie Doles, who survived him.



Campanella died of heart failure at age 71 on June 26, 1993, at his home in Woodland Hills, California.[1][30] His body was cremated at the Forest Lawn, Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles.[31]


Roy Campanella's number 39 was retired by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1972.

In July 1969, Campanella was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown,[32] the second player of black heritage so honored, after Jackie Robinson. The same year, he received the Bronze Medallion from the City of New York.

Campanella was elected to the Mexican Professional Baseball Hall Of Fame in 1971.[33] On June 4, 1972, the Dodgers retired Campanella's uniform number 39 alongside Jackie Robinson's number 42 and Sandy Koufax's number 32.[34]

In 1999, Campanella ranked number 50 on The Sporting News' list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players,[35] and was a nominee for the Major League Baseball All-Century Team.

Campanella was featured on a United States postage stamp in 2006.The stamp is one of a block of four honoring baseball sluggers, the others being Mickey Mantle, Hank Greenberg, and Mel Ott.[36]

In September 2006, the Los Angeles Dodgers announced the creation of the Roy Campanella Award. The club's players and coaches vote on it annually, and is given to the Dodger who best exemplifies "Campy's" spirit and leadership. Shortstop Rafael Furcal was named the inaugural winner of the award.

Campanella is mentioned in the lyrics of multiple songs, including "Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit that Ball?", written and recorded by Buddy Johnson in 1949 (and covered by Count Basie and his Orchestra that same year), "We Didn't Start the Fire" by Billy Joel, and in the refrain of "Talkin' Baseball" by Terry Cashman.

See also



  1. ^ a b Thomas, Robert McG. Jr. (June 28, 1993). "Roy Campanella, 71, Dies; Was Dodger Hall of Famer". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-05-29.
  2. ^ "Campanella, Roy". National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.
  3. ^ Jackie & Campy by William C. Kashatus, pp. 44
  4. ^ a b c "Roy Campanella (SABR BioProject)". Society for American Baseball Research.
  5. ^ a b "Negro Leagues Baseball eMuseum: Personal Profiles: Roy Campanella".
  6. ^ Baltimore Elite Giants Archived 2007-12-22 at the Wayback Machine Negro League Baseball Players Association website
  7. ^ "Roy Campanella Mexican & Minor Leagues Statistics & History".
  8. ^ "Roy Campanella - Seamheads Negro Leagues Database".
  9. ^ a b Jackie & Campy by William C Kashatus, pp, 65-68 &75
  10. ^ "1946 Roy Campanella Double-Signed Class B Danville Dodgers | Lot #81725". Heritage Auctions. Retrieved 2018-12-05.
  11. ^ "Top Five Black Players In St. Paul Saints History". MiLB.com. Retrieved 2023-05-11.
  12. ^ Borzi, Pat (2019-05-17). "With City of Baseball Museum, the Saints add a side of history to CHS Field". MinnPost. Retrieved 2023-05-11.
  13. ^ 1949 All-Star Game. – Baseball-Almanac.
  14. ^ "Joc Pederson homers again but Dodgers blow lead in ninth". The Orange County Register. 3 June 2015.
  15. ^ 100 Best Catcher CS% Totals at The Encyclopedia of Baseball Catchers
  16. ^ "Catching Better Than 50% of Base Stealers". The Encyclopedia of Baseball Catchers. Retrieved July 15, 2019.
  17. ^ "Retrosheet Boxscore: Brooklyn Dodgers 5, Chicago Cubs 0". retrosheet.org.
  18. ^ "Retrosheet Boxscore: Brooklyn Dodgers 3, New York Giants 0". retrosheet.org.
  19. ^ "Retrosheet Boxscore: Brooklyn Dodgers 5, Philadelphia Phillies 0". retrosheet.org.
  20. ^ a b Terrell, Roy (March 17, 1958). "Part 1: Sal Maglie on the Art of Pitching". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved August 7, 2020.
  21. ^ a b "Man Behind the Plate". – TIME. – February 10, 1958. – Retrieved: 2008-05-30
  22. ^ "Seat Belts & Safety". – TIME. – August 24, 1962. – Retrieved: 2008-05-29
  23. ^ "Scoreboard". – TIME. – March 17, 1958. – Retrieved: 2008-05-30
  24. ^ Smith Andrew. "Greatest Dodger of All", New York Newsday. June 28, 1993, p. 8.
  25. ^ "News Roundup". TIME. January 12, 1959. Archived from the original on February 1, 2011. Not quite a year after his 22-year career as a homer-hammering catcher ended in a Long Island auto accident, Old Dodger Roy Campanella was back in baseball. His new job, at an estimated $25,000 a year: assistant supervisor of scouting for Los Angeles in the eastern part of the U.S.. and special coach at the Bums' spring training camp at Vero Beach. Fla.
  26. ^ Krell, David. "May 7, 1959: Roy Campanella Night". Society for American Baseball Research.
  27. ^ Muder, Craig. "Fans fill Coliseum for Campanella tribute". National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.
  28. ^ Verducci, Tom (January 18, 2021). "The Greatest (Forgotten) Game Ever Played: MLB's 1970 Exhibition to Honor MLK". Sports Illustrated.
  29. ^ Casey, Michael. "Nashua's Holman Stadium honored for historic role in racially integrating baseball". Portsmouth Herald. Retrieved 2024-03-01.
  30. ^ Anderson, Dave (June 28, 1993). "BASEBALL: Sports of The Times; In Roy Campanella, The Heart of a Hero". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-05-29.
  31. ^ Thornley, Stew (2003). "Reviews: The Baseball Necrology: The Post-Baseball Lives and Deaths of Over 7,600 Major League Players and Others. By Bill Lee" (PDF). Nineteenth Century Notes. 2003. Watertown, Massachusetts: Nineteenth Century Committee, Society for American Baseball Research: 6. Retrieved 2008-10-13. Often a cemetery that performs a cremation gets listed as the interment site. Thus Lee lists Roy Campanella as buried at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills in Los Angeles, although Campanella was only cremated there with his remains returned to the family.
  32. ^ "Baseball enshrines 4 at Cooperstown". Schenectady Gazette. (New York). Associated Press. July 29, 1969. p. 20.
  33. ^ "Inmortales" (in Spanish). Salón de la Fama del Beisbol Profesional de México.
  34. ^ "Dodgers Retired Numbers". MLB.com.
  35. ^ "The Sporting News Selects Baseball's 100 Greatest Players". The Sporting News. April 26, 1999. Archived from the original on April 16, 2005.
  36. ^ "The 2006 Commemorative Stamp Program". United States Postal Service. Archived from the original on October 18, 2010. Retrieved January 31, 2011.

Further reading