Nov 18, 2014

Italian / African / American Baseball Hall of Famer: Roy Campanella (1948-1957)

Roy Campanella was born November 19, 1921 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Roys father John, was an Italian American of Sicilian descent. His mother Ida was African American.

Roy was a star athlete in Philadelphia playing both baseball & football. He dropped out of high school at age 15 when he signed a contract to play in the Negro Leagues for the Baltimore Elite Giants.

He chose to study the catcher position under Hall of Famer Biz Mackey, whom he later credited for teaching him everything he knew about catching.

Campy became a star player in the Negro Leagues, he even hit a dramatic playoff HR against Josh Gibson & the Homestead Gray's in 1939. 

In 1942 he played a game with the Cincinnati Buckeyes but was not granted permission to do so. He was fined & eventually suspended for good when he jumped ship to play in the Mexican League.

There he played with the Monterrey Industrials, eventually getting elected into the Hall of Fame there as well. During his time in Mexico he learned to speak Spanish. which later helped him with Spanish speaking Major Leaguers, especially team mate Sandy Amoros.

In 1946 he moved into the Brooklyn Dodgers organization. That year the Dodgers were getting prepared to bring Jackie Robinson up to the Major league level & promoted him to AAA Montreal.  Campanella & Don Newcombe were assigned to Class B, Nashua in the New England League. He won the MVP Award leading his team to the Championship while driving in 96 runs (second in the NEL). In 1947 he moved up to AAA Montreal batting .273.

Campanella with Jackie Robinson
History Remembers Campy's personal transition to the integration of the major leagues a bit different that Jackie Robinsons. 

Campy was a much more quiet individual than Robinson, and turned the other cheek more often, even though it was very tough to do so at times. 

Although he is remembered for being more quiet, one must remember he got to the majors just one season later than Robinson, so times were still hostile & it was very difficult for him as well. 

Roy Campanella made his MLB debut on Opening Day 1948, coming in the game in the 7th inning replacing Gil Hodges who was playing at catcher. In his first at bat, Campy was greeted with a hit by pitch from New York Giant pitcher; Ken Trinkle. 

Campy was sent back to the minors, playing for AAA St. Paul where he hit .325 getting back to the Dodgers by July. He took over the catcher's spot right away & was now age 26.

In his third game back he helped the Dodgers beat the rival NY Giants hitting two HRs in a 13-12 win. In his first month in the majors he hit five HRs & drove in 24 runs. Overall he played in 83 games for the third place Dodgers, batting .258 with 9 HRs 11 doubles & 45 RBIs.

The next season Campanella made the first of his eight straight All Star games. In 130 games he hit 22 HRs with 82 RBIs while batting .287. Behind the plate he led all catchers in games (127) put outs (684) & caught stealing % (57%).

Campy would lead the league in throwing out base runners trying to steal for five straight seasons. He would lead the league in put outs six times, games played  four times, double plays & fielding twice, assists & errors once. 

In 1949 he helped Brooklyn win the pennant. Campy hit a HR in Game #3 of the World Series, in a 4-3 loss. The Dodgers loss the Series in five games.

Two years later in 1951 he won the first of his three NL MVP Awards for the classic Boys of Summer, Brooklyn team. That '51 season he hit .a career best .325 (4th in the league) with 33 HRs & a career high 33 doubles (both third most in the NL). He also drove in 108 runs (4th in the NL). Defensively he led all catchers in games (140) caught stealing (34) caught stealing % (69.4%) assists (71) & put outs (722).

It was in this famous '51 season that the Dodgers blew a huge late August lead over the New York Giants, to tie for first place & force a three game playoff series.

When Ralph Branca threw the famous walk off "shot heard round the world" HR pitch to Bobby Thompson in the 1951 Playoff game, it wasn’t Campy who called the pitch. He was sitting on the bench due to an injury, and his back up, future Mets pitching coach Rube Walker was behind the plate.

In 1952 the Dodgers won another pennant, Campy hit 22 HRs with 18 doubles 97 RBIs while batting .269, although he missed time with injuries playing 128 games. In the seven game Subway Series loss, Campy hit just .214 (6-29) with just one RBI.

In 1953 he won his second MVP Award, as he set a single season record for HRs by a catcher with 41 (third most in the NL). The record held for 43 years until it was broken by the Mets by Todd Hundley in 1996.

That season was his overall best, as he led the league in RBIs (142) which is the second most in a single season in Dodger history. He hit 26 doubles and batted .312 (tenth in the NL) while tying a career best .395 on base % (6th in the NL).

In his brief ten year career Campy hit over 30 HRs four times, coming in the league’s top eight five times. He drove in over 100 runs three times, coming in the top ten in that category four times. He would bat over .300 three times, qualifying for the top ten in the batting title all three times. He also hit over 20 doubles four times.
In 1954 he was limited to 111 games & his numbers fell off batting just .207. In the legendary Dodgers 1955 Championship season he rebounded, to win his third MVP Award.

In an incredible turn around, he was healthy playing 123 games batting .318, over one hundred points higher than the previous year. He hit 32 HRs with 107 RBIs both second on the club to Duke Snider & eighth best in the NL in both categories. He hit twenty doubles while tying a personal career high .395 on base %.
Post Season: After going hitless in the first two games, he had back to back three hit games at Ebbetts Field. In Game #3 he hit a two run HR off Bob Turley & later doubled home Junior Gilliam in the 8-3 Dodgers win. The next day in Game #4 he hit a solo HR, leading to an 8-5 win, evening up the series.

He would get just one more hit in the final three games, with his hit coming in Johnny Podres  2-0 Game Seven shutout. It was Campanella who was behind the plate calling the signals & the first to congratulate Podres on that classic day in New York.

Honors: The two are honored with a pair of statues outside the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. The scene depicts Podres pitching to Campanella.

Overall Campy batted .259 in the 1955 World Series. Campy played in five World Series, hitting four HRs with 12 RBIs and a .237 average winning the Championship in 1955.


Campy & Podres After 1955 World Series Game #7 Win

In 1956 he was 35 years old, his average fell off to just .219 as he hit 20 HRs with 73 RBIs. That year the Dodgers won another pennant, their last in Brooklyn. In the seven game World Series loss, he hit .182 driving in runs in three straight games (Game #2-Game #4).
Tragedy: After the Dodgers left Brooklyn in 1957 Campy was slated to continue as the teams catcher in Los Angeles. On the night of January 28, 1958 he closed down his liquor store, which he owned in Harlem, & drove his rented car home.

On the way to his home in Glen Cove, Long Island, the car hit a patch of ice and crashed into a telephone pole. He broke his neck, crushed two vertebrae and his spinal cord, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down.

When he awoke in the hospital, he was devastated and wanted to die instead of live paralyzed. After finally coming to terms with his condition & finding an inner peace he began a long hard rehab. Soon in an incredible true comeback story of determination, he was able to use his arms and hands again. He soon divorced his cheating wife and moved ahead with his life.

Pee Wee Reese & Campy at the L.A. Coliseum
In May 1959, the Dodgers honored Campy on Roy Campanella Night to a record crowd of 93,103 at the Los Angeles Coliseum. The Dodgers played an exhibition game against their long time rivals, that night, the AL New York team.

In an emotional entrance, Brooklyn team Captain Pee Wee Reese wheeled out Campanella in his wheel chair to a dark Colesium only lit by hundreds of thousands of candles. It was an unbelievable scene & showed how much Campanella was loved by the fans as well as his team mates & all of baseball.

Campy & Willie Mays
In his ten year career he batted .276 with 1161 hits 242 HRs (218th all time)178 doubles 18 triples 856 RBIs & a .360 on base %. He averaged a HR every 17.4 times at bat, which is 58th best all time.

Behind the plate he is ranked first all time in throwing out would be base stealers, tossing out 57%. In 1183 games (76th all time) he posted a .988 fielding %, turning 82 double plays (87th all time) with 6520 put outs (58th all time) 

Roy Campanella was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1969 and had his uniform number 39, retired by the L.A. Dodgers in 1972.

He worked in various jobs within the Dodgers organization moving to L.A. in 1978. He appeared at many baseball related events and got time on many television shows as well.

He would appear on;  Lassie, What’s My Line & a biographical movie about his life, called the Roy Campanella Story. In 1993 he passed away from a fatal heart attack at age 71, he was & is a true legend & an inspiration to all.


No comments: