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Roy Campanella

Born: November 19, 1921(1921-11-19)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Died: June 26, 1993 (aged 71)
Woodland Hills, California
Batted: Right Threw: Right 
MLB debut
April 20, 1948 for the Brooklyn Dodgers
Last MLB appearance
September 29, 1957 for the Brooklyn Dodgers
Career statistics
Batting average     .276
Home runs     242
Runs batted in     856
Career highlights and awards
Member of the National
Empty Star.svg Empty Star.svg Empty Star.svg Baseball Hall of Fame Empty Star.svg Empty Star.svg Empty Star.svg
Induction     1969
Vote     79.41%

Roy Campanella (November 19, 1921 – June 26, 1993), nicknamed "Campy", was an American baseball player — primarily at the position of catcher — in the Negro Leagues and Major League Baseball. He was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Widely considered to have been one of the greatest catchers in the history of the game,[1] Campanella played for the Brooklyn Dodgers during the 1940s and 1950s, as one of the pioneers in breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball. His career was cut short in 1958 when he was paralyzed in an automobile accident.[2]


Playing career


Negro League

Campanella's father John was of Italian descent; however, because his mother Ida was African American, he was barred from Major League Baseball before 1947, the season that non-white players were admitted to the Major Leagues for the first time since the 19th century. Campanella began playing Negro League baseball for the Washington Elite Giants in 1937, dropping out of school on his sixteenth birthday. The Elite Giants would move to Baltimore the following year,[3] and Campanella would go on to become a star player with the team.

Mexican league

In 1942 and 1943, Campanella played in the Mexican League with the Monterrey Sultans. Lazaro Salazar, the team's manager at the time, told Campanella that he would play one day at the Major League level. In 1971, Campanella was elected to the Mexican League Hall Of Fame.[4]

Minor league

In 1946, Campanella moved into the Brooklyn Dodgers' minor league system, as the Dodger organization began preparations to break the Major Leagues' color barrier with Jackie Robinson. For the 1946 season, Robinson was assigned to the Montreal Royals, the Dodgers' affiliate in the Class AAA International League. Meanwhile, the team looked to assign Campanella to a Class B league. After the general manager of the Danville Dodgers of the Illinois-Indiana-Iowa League reported that he did not feel that league ready for racial integration, the organization sent Campanella, along with pitcher Don Newcombe to the Nashua Dodgers of the Class B New England League, where the Dodgers felt the racial climate would be more tolerant. The Nashua team thus became the first professional baseball team to field a racially integrated lineup in the United States in the 20th Century.

Campanella's 1946 season proceeded largely without racial incident, and in one game Campanella took over the managerial duties after manager Walter Alston was ejected. This made Campanella the first African-American to manage white players on 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 in the seventh inning. Newcombe hit a game-tying two-run home run.

Major League

Jackie Robinson's first season in the Major Leagues came in 1947, and Campanella began his Major League career with the Brooklyn Dodgers the following season. Campanella's first game was on April 20, 1948. He went on to play for the Dodgers from 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 played in the All-Star Game every year from 1949 through 1956. His 1949 All-Star selection made him one of the first four African-Americans so honored. (Jackie Robinson, Don Newcombe and Larry Doby were also All-Stars in 1949.)[5] 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 over .300, hit over 30 home runs and had over 100 runs batted in. His 142 RBIs in 1953 broke 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 RBIs 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 broken by Todd Hundley. Over his career, he threw out 57% of the base runners who tried steal a base on him, the highest by any catcher in major league history.[6]

In 1955, Campanella's final MVP season helped propel Brooklyn to its first-ever World Series championship. After the Dodgers dropped the first two games of that year's World 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.

After the 1957 season, the Brooklyn Dodgers relocated to Los Angeles, California, and became the Los Angeles Dodgers, but Campanella's playing career came to an end before he ever played a game for Los Angeles.

Automobile accident

Campanella lived in Glen Cove, New York, on the North Shore of Long Island, while owning a liquor store in Harlem which he also operated during the baseball off-season and between games. On January 28, 1958, after closing the store for the night, he began his drive to his home in Glen Cove. En route, traveling at about 30 mph (48 km/h), his car (a rented 1957 Chevrolet sedan) hit a patch of ice at a S-curve on Dosoris Lane near Apple Tree Lane, skidded into a telephone pole and overturned, breaking Campanella's neck. He fractured the fifth and sixth cervical vertebrae and compressed the spinal cord.[7][8]

The accident left Campanella paralyzed from the shoulders down.[7] Through physical therapy, he eventually was able to gain substantial use of his arms and hands.[9] He was able to feed himself, shake hands, and gesture while speaking, but he would require a wheelchair for mobility for the remainder of his life.

Post-playing career

Willie Mays with Roy Campanella (1961)

After his playing career, Campanella remained involved with the Dodgers. In January 1959 the Dodgers named him assistant supervisor of scouting for the eastern part of the United States and special coach 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.[10] In 1978, he moved to California and took a job as assistant to the Dodgers' director of community relations, Campanella's former teammate and longtime friend Don Newcombe.

Honors and tribute

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

In May 1959, the Dodgers, then playing their second season in Los Angeles, honored Campanella with Roy Campanella Night at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The New York Yankees agreed to make a special trip to Los Angeles to play an exhibition game against the Dodgers for the occasion. The Yankees won the game, 6-2. The attendance at the game was 93,103, setting a record at that time for the largest crowd to attend a Major League Baseball game.

In 1969, Campanella was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, the second player of African American heritage so honored, after Jackie Robinson. The same year, he received the Bronze Medallion from the City of New York.

On June 4, 1972, the Dodgers retired Campanella's uniform number 39 alongside Robinson's (42) and Sandy Koufax's (32).

In an article in Esquire magazine in 1976, sportswriter Harry Stein published an article called the "All Time All-Star Argument Starter," a list of five ethnic baseball teams. Campanella was the catcher on Stein's black team.

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

In 2006, Campanella was featured on a United States postage stamp.[11] The stamp is one of a block of four honoring baseball sluggers, the others being Mickey Mantle, Hank Greenberg, and Mel Ott.

In September 2006, the Los Angeles Dodgers announced the creation of the Roy Campanella Award, which is voted among the club's players and coaches 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.

Personal life

Campanella was married three times. He married Bernice Ray in 1939, with whom he had two daughters. They divorced a few years later. On April 30, 1945, he married Ruthe Willis and had three children together (including a son, television director Roy Campanella II), though their relationship deteriorated after his accident. They separated in 1960 and Ruthe died in January 1963. On May 5, 1964, Campanella married Roxie Doles, who survived him.

Campanella died of a heart attack on June 26, 1993, in his Woodland Hills, California home.[2][12] He was cremated by the Forest Lawn, Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles[13]. His widow, Roxie, died of cancer in 2004.


The book Carl Erskine's Tales from the Dodgers Dugout: Extra Innings (2004) includes short stories from former Dodger pitcher Carl Erskine. Campanella is prominent in many of these stories.

In October 2006, Simon & Schuster announced plans to publish a new biography of Campanella to be written by Neil Lanctot, author of Negro League Baseball - The Rise and Ruin of a Black Institution. The book is scheduled for a 2010 or 2011 release.

It's Good to Be Alive

Campanella himself authored the inspirational book It’s Good to Be Alive, which details his journey back from the near-fatal car accident that left him paralyzed. The book mentions the years of tireless efforts by physical therapist Sam Brockington which allowed Campanella to regain some use of his arms, eventually overcome his initial bitterness about his fate, and finally adopt an optimistic outlook on life. Michael Landon made his TV-movie directorial debut in the 1974 movie It’s Good to Be Alive, in which Campanella was portrayed by Paul Winfield.


Roy Campanella was interviewed by Edward R. Murrow on the CBS program Person to Person on October 2, 1953 and again on January 2, 1959. Campanella also appeared as Mystery Guest on What's My Line? episode 171 on September 6, 1953 and as a guest celebrity on The Name's the Same (ABC-TV) on July 27, 1954. Campanella was also mentioned in the lyrics of the song "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) and in the lyrics to the song "We Didn't Start the Fire" by Billy Joel. Campanella was also honored on the famous Ralph Edward's show This Is Your Life. Campanella appeared as himself in the Lassie episode "The Mascot," first broadcast September 27, 1959, in a story where he is coaching Timmy Martin's "Boys' League" team.

See also


  1. ^ Ott, Tim (2002-07-17). "All-time unpredictable fantasy leaguers". Major League Baseball. Retrieved 2007-06-29. 
  2. ^ a b Thomas, Jr., Robert McG. (June 28, 1993). "Roy Campanella, 71, Dies; Was Dodger Hall of Famer". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-05-29. 
  3. ^ Baltimore Elite Giants - Negro Leagues. - Negro League Baseball Players Association.
  4. ^ Campanella's biography page on the Mexican Professional Baseball Hall of Fame website (Spanish)
  5. ^ 1949 All-Star Game. - Baseball-Almanac.
  6. ^ 100 Best Catcher CS% Totals at The Encyclopedia of Baseball Catchers
  7. ^ a b "Man Behind the Plate". - TIME. - February 10, 1958. - Retrieved: 2008-05-30
  8. ^ "Seat Belts & Safety". - TIME. - August 24, 1962. - Retrieved: 2008-05-29
  9. ^ "Scoreboard". - TIME. - March 17, 1958. - Retrieved: 2008-05-30
  10. ^ People: News Roundup. - TIME. - January 12, 1959. - Retrieved: 2008-05-30
  11. ^ Campanella stamp. - USPS
  12. ^ Anderson, Dave. - Sports: "BASEBALL: Sports of The Times; In Roy Campanella, The Heart of a Hero". - New York Times. - June 28, 1993. - Retrieved: 2008-05-29
  13. ^ 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 (Watertown, MA: Nineteenth Century Committee, Society for American Baseball Research) 2003: 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.". 


  • Campanella, Roy. It's Good to Be Alive, New York: Little Brown and Co., 1959
  • Daly, Steve. Dem Little Bums: The Nashua Dodgers, Concord, NH: Plaidswede Publishing, 2002
  • Greenfield, Steven, "Roy Campanella",
  • Roper, Scott C., and Stephanie Abbot Roper. "'We're Going to Give All We Have for this Grand Little Town': Baseball Integration and the 1946 Nashua Dodgers" Historical New Hampshire, Spring/Summer, 1998
  • Tygiel, Jules. Baseball's Great Experiment: Jackie Robinson and His Legacy, New York: Oxford University Press, 1997
  • Young, A.S. (Andrew Sturgeon). Great Negro Baseball Stars, and How They Made the Major Leagues, New York: A. S. Barnes, 1953.

External links


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