Apr 22, 2013

Former Italian / American N.L. MVP: Dolph Camilli (1933-1945)

Adolph Louis "Dolph" Camilli was born on April 23, 1907 in San Francisco, California. The five foot ten first baseman signed with the Chicago Cubs right out of Sacred Heart high school.

Camilli spent eight years in the minor leagues, hitting 17 or more HRs five times. He came up with Cubs in 1933 for 16 games as a September call up. Midway through the 1934 season he was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies, and finished the year hitting 16 HRs with 87 RBIs while leading the NL in strikeouts (94).

By 1936, he became a solid player, hitting 25 or more HRs & driving in 80 runs, three years straight for the Phillies. He would lead the league in strike outs again in 1935, 1938 & 1939, also striking out over 100 times four times in his career. At that point in time he was both the NL single season & all time strikeout leader.

In 1937 he led the NL in on base percentage (.446%) while batting a career high .339 (.6th in the NL). At first base he led the league in fielding (.994%) as by now he was known as one of the league's best defensive first baseman.

In the previous two seasons he led the league in put outs, games played & errors. He got traded to the Brooklyn Dodgers in one hell of a deal for $45,000 & Eddie Morgan just before the 1938 season. He was brought in to change the Dodger image of the time as loveable losers to being serious contenders.

He became a very popular Brooklyn Dodger player getting named team captain & getting his picture on a Wheaties cereal box. Camilli spent seven seasons in Brooklyn, hitting 23 or more HRs five times, including one NL HR title. He drove in over 100 runs four times & led the league once in that category as well.

He would lead the league in walks twice (1938-1939) games played (939) make two All Star games & win the 1941 MVP Award. That season he led the NL in HRs (34) RBIs (120) hit 29 doubles drew 104 walks (2nd in the NL) posted a .407 on base % (3rd in the NL) & batted .285. 

Camilli led the Dodgers to their first World Series in 21 years in 1941, although he struggled in the Fall Classic batting just .167 (3-18). In Game #2 he drove in what would be the games winning run, as he singled off Johnny Murphy's scoring Dixie Walker from third base.


The next season Camilli finished second in the NL in HRs (26) & as well as in RBIs (109) posting a .372 on base % hitting .252. That year he surpassed Zack Wheat for the all time Dodger HR record, later Gil Hodges then Duke Snider would both pass that mark in 1953. From 1935-1942 Camilli was one of the game's biggest sluggers, finishing in the top five in HRs every season, and in the top eight in both RBIs & runs scored.


He was traded to the New York Giants in 1943 but refused to report due to the team's hated rivalry. He chose to work on his cattle ranch instead. He made a brief return with the Boston Red Sox in 1945, batting .212 then called it quits for good.


In his 12 year career, he hit .277 with 1482 hits 239 HRs (226th all time), 950 RBIs, 936 runs scored, 261 doubles, 947 walks (141st all time) a .388 on base % (111th all time) a .492 slugging % (130th all time) & 961 strike outs & in 1490 games played. At first base he played 1476 games (62nd all time) with 13724 put outs (57th all time) 957 assists (58th all time) making 141 errors (63rd all time) making 1189 double plays & posting a .990 fielding %.


Retirement: He coached in the Pacific Coast league and scouted for the AL New York team & the California Angels. Dolph Camilli was elected to the Italian / American Sports Hall of Fame, the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame & the Dodgers Hall of Fame in 1994. He said of the Brooklyn fans: "All they cared about was their family, their job and the Dodgers. And I don't know which one was the most important." He passed away in 1997 at age 90 in San Mateo California.

Family: His son Doug Camilli, also played for the Dodgers and caught one of Sandy Koufax’s no hitters. Gil Hodges was a team mate of both father & son, at different ends of his career. Dolph's brother, Frankie Campbell, was a heavyweight boxer who died from a cerebral hemorrhage as a result of a knock out by boxing champion Max Baer.

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