Roy Campanella: Italian/African American Hall of Fame Catcher & Three Time MVP- Inspirational Hero (1948-1957)

Roy Campanella
was born November 19, 1921, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The family first lived in Germantown ten moved on to North Philadelphia.

Roy's father John was an Italian American of Sicilian descent. He sold fish & vegetables out of a truck then later ran a grocery store. His mother Ida was African American. Roy was one of four children, an older brother & two older sisters.

Roy was a star athlete in Philadelphia playing both baseball which was his passion, as well as football. He would watch games at Shibe Park from a nearby building rooftop. He dropped out of high school at age 16 signing a contract to play in the Negro Leagues for the Baltimore Elite Giants.

Negro Leagues: 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. In 1939 he hit a dramatic playoff HR against Josh Gibson & the Homestead Grays. 

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 to 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 teammate Sandy Amoros.

Brooklyn Dodgers: In 1945 he was the catcher on a black All Star team that played a five game exhibition series against major leaguers at Ebbets Field. The team was managed by Dodger coach Charlie Dressen. Dressen arranged a meeting with Branch Rickey & Campanella turned down his offer to join the Dodger organization. 

He thought it was for a Negro League team Rickey was starting. It wasn't until Campanella ran into Jackie Robinson in a New York Hotel when he realized it was for the actual Dodgers. He quickly got a telegram to Ricket to accept.

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. 

Campanella won the MVP Award leading his team to the Championship while driving in 96 runs (second in the NEL). In one game his leadership qualities had him take over as manager, when skipper Walt Alston, who was also the team's first baseman, was ejected. The team came back from three runs down to win.

Campanella with Jackie Robinson
In 1947 he moved up to AAA Montreal batting .273.

Campy & Jackie: Campanella & Jackie Robinson were teammates for nine years, they were together at a time when there were just a handful of other black players in the league. But they were very different people & were never very close friends, although there was a mutual respect.

Campanella was a quiet gentle personality, full of life & jovial. He was more willing to turn the other cheek, although it was not easy. Robinson was more Firey & after having to stay quiet for a year while receiving all kinds of abuse from opposing players he was angry & played with aggression when he was able to respond. 

He even went as far as to say that "there was a little Uncle Tom in Roy" as he felt he did not help him carry the banner for their race.

Quotes- Roy Campanella: "Jackie made things easy for us. Because of him I'm just another guy playing baseball".

One must also remember it was whole another season before Campanella arrived in the big leagues.

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. 

After three games Branch Rickey ordered manager Leo Durocher to keep Campy on the bench until rosters had to be cut on May 15th. At that time, he wanted to send him to AA St. Paul, where Campy was to become the first player to break the American Association color barrier.

Campanella rejoined the Dodgers on July 2nd, they had just lost five straight & were in seventh place. He was ow 26 years old & took over the catcher's spot right away.

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. The Dodgers won 50 of 73 games to go 84-70 finishing third to the Milwaukee Braves who won their second straight pennant.

Overall, Campanella played in 83 games for the third place Dodgers, batting .258 with 9 HRs 11 doubles & 45 RBIs.

1949: It was this season the Dodgers brought up Don Newcombe, making him & Campanella the first black battery in baseball. Campanella made the first of his eight straight All-Star games. 

All Star Games: In the 1949 All Star Game, Campanella came in the game to replace Andy Seminick, he went 0-2 in the game.

Campanella would start the next four All Star Games & catch every inning for the National League until Smokey Burgess relieved in in the 8th inning of the 1954 contest. Campanella went hitless until the 8th inning of the 1953 All Star Game when he singled off Satchel Page. The NL won the first five of Campys All Star Games, losing 11-9 in 1954. In that game he was 1-3 with a 6th inning single off Bob Porterfield.

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 batted .287 with 22 HRs 22 doubles & 82 RBIs, he posted a .385 on base % with a .883 OPS.

1949 World Series: In the five game subway series loss, Campanella hit safely in four of the games going 4-15 in the Series. 

In Game #3 Campanella hit a HR in the 9th inning off Joe Paige. The HR was the second one in the inning, but Bruce Edwards struck out looking to end the game in a 4-3 loss.

In 1950 the Dodgers finished two games behind the Wiz Kid Philadelphia Phillies, after being nine games back on September 18th but just falling short. Campy was one of three Dodgers along with Gil Hodges & Duke Snider to hit 30 HRs. He drove in 89 runs & batted .281.

1951: In Spring Training he chipped a bone on his right thumb which caused him to play in pain all season. This year Campanella won the first of his three NL MVP Awards for the now famed Boys of Summer, Brooklyn team. That 1951 season goes down as the year the Dodgers lost a 13-game lead, they held on August 11th to tie for first place with their rival New York Giants. After August 11th, Campy hit 11 HRs & 36 RBIs.

Three 5 RBI Days: On August 12th he hit two HRs & drove in five runs against the Boston Braves. On September 3rd, he hit two more HRs & drove in another five runs in another win over Boston. On September 26th he had his third five RBI Day against the poor Braves as he went 3-5.

Beaning: On September 17th, he was beaned by a pitch from Chicago Cubs pitcher Turk Lown, Campy had to get rushed to the hospital & spent five days there returning right back to action on September 22nd, going 0-5 in a loss to Philly.

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).


When the season ended, the two NL New York teams were tied & a three game playoff was
played. 

Campanella played in the first game of the series & went 0-3 in the Giants 3-1 win. More importantly he got injured & could not play in the next two games. The Dodgers won the next game 11-0 & a final Game three was played at the Polo Grounds.

In that final game, Ralph Branca threw the famous walk off "shot heard round the world" HR pitch to Bobby Thompson in the bottom of the 9th inning. Since Campy was injured, it was Dodger backup catcher & future Mets pitching coach Rube Walker 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. 

1952 World Series: In this classic seven game sub way series, Campanella was hit in the hand by Allie Reynolds in Game #1. He was unable to hold the bat tightly the rest of the series. He did play & hit safely in five of the six games but not with his usual strength. 

He drove in the only Dodger in Game #2 with a 3rd inning single off Vic Raschi. In the final Game #7 he had two hits as well. In the Series Campy hit just .214 (6-29) with one RBI.


1953: This season 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, Campy 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).

1953 World Series: In his third World Series appearance, it was another matchup in New York subway series. After getting one hit over the first two games, he was the hero of Game #3. 

In the bottom of the 8th inning facing Vic Raschi, in a 2-2 tie at Ebbets Field, Campanella homered over the left field wall to give Brooklyn the lead & the eventual win.

In Game #5 he went 3-4 & scored two runs, one on Carl Furillo's fielder's choice & another on Billy Cox's three run HR. 

1954:  Campanella was injured in Spring Training & eventually needed wrist surgery. He was limited to 111 games & his numbers fell off batting just .207. The Dodgers won 92 games but finished second to the New York Giants who went on to win the World Series.

1955: Campanella came back healthy for the '55 season & at age 33 won his third MVP Award. 

The Dodgers took over first place in the fourth game of the season & never looked back, they won the division by 13.5 games. In May he hit 9 HRs & drove in 29 runs. 

In the month he had two stretches where he hit HRs in three straight games. Starting on May 30th he hit HRs in seven of eight games with 15 RBIs while Brooklyn won six of them. 

Campy was leading the league in hitting. batting .335 at the end of June when a foul tip broke a
bone spur in his knee. He was out for two weeks & missed his first the All-Star game since 1949.

In his second game back he hit a HR against the St. Louis Cardinals in a 12-3 win. On July 28th, he hit two HRs in Cincinnati driving in three runs in a 10-2 Dodger win. In August he hit nine more HRs & drove in another 25 runs raising his average up to .327. 

Campy played in 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 %.

1955 World Series: After the NY Giants Championship, their archrival Dodgers returned as the NL pennant winners the next year. This was another subway series matchup, opening up at Brooklyn's Ebbets Field.

Campanella was hitless in the first two games. In Game #3 he hit a 1st inning two run HR off Bob Turley. In the 4th inning he drove in Jim Gilliam with a base hit to left field. 

Campy & Podres After 1955 World Series Game #7 Win
He added a third hit with an 8th inning leadoff double. The Dodgers went on to an 8-3 win.

Campy had another three-hit game in Game #4. With the Dodgers down by two, he led off the 4th inning with a HR off Don Larsen. Gil Hodges soon followed with a two run HR to put Brooklyn ahead. They went on to an 8-5 win to tie up the series at two games each.  

He went hitless in the next two games, then was behind the plate calling the pitches in the only Championship in Brooklyn's history as Johnny Podres pitched a five-hit shutout in Game #7. 

In that game Campanella doubled in the 4th inning off Tommy Byrne, he scored the first run of the game on Gil Hodges single to left field.

Overall Campy batted .259 (7-27) in the 1955 World Series hitting two HRs with three doubles & four RBIs.

Brooklyn went crazy & the celebration lasted for days. After hearing the call of "wait till next year" after winning 12 pennants "them bums" finally won their Championship.


After the Championship: In 1956 Campy was 35 years old, all his injuries were catching up to him. He had already had two hand operations & this year injured it again. He missed more time & felt the discomfort the rest of the season.

His average fell off to just .219 but he still hit 20 HRs with 73 RBIs. That year the Dodgers won another pennant, their last in Brooklyn. They battled both the Milwaukee Braves & the Cincinnati Red who finished a game & two games behind. 

The Dodgers were in a tie up until a week before the season's end. On September 25th, Campy hit a two run HR to keep Brooklyn in first place, where they held on to the lead to catch the pennant.

1956 World Series: In the seven game World Series loss, he hit .182 driving in runs in three
straight games (Game #2-Game #4). He drove in a run with a sac fly in the 13-8 Game #2 Dodger win. In Game #3 he hit another sac fly, in the 2nd inning off Whitey Ford in a 5-3 loss.

Brooklyn won the first two games, then lost the next three games. In Game #6 Clem Labine out dueled Bob Turley 1-0, winning the game on Jackie Robinson's walk off single. Brooklyn lost the final game 9-0.

World Series Career: Overall Campy played in five World Series, hitting 4 HRs with 5 doubles 12 RBIs and a .237 average winning the Championship in 1955.

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 in Harlem, & drove his rented car home to Glen Cove Long Island.

On the way to his home the car hit a patch of ice at a curve on Dosoris Lane, near Apple Tree Lane. The car skidded into a telephone pole & over turned. 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 required a wheelchair for mobility the rest of his life. Campanella became an inspiration for people everywhere.
Campy at Ebbetts Field before the Demolition

Campy & Willie Mays
He soon divorced his cheating wife and moved ahead with his life.

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.

Career Stats: In his ten-year career he batted .276 with 1161 hits 242 HRs 178 doubles 18 triples 856 RBIs a .360 on base % & a .860 OPS. 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) 

Pee Wee Reese & Campy at the L.A. Coliseum
Roy Campanella Night: 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 longtime rivals, that night, the AL New York team.

In an emotional entrance, Brooklyn team Captain Pee Wee Reese wheeled out Campanella in his wheelchair to a dark Coliseum 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 teammates & all of baseball.

Honors: 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 was a team ambassador as well. Campy was on hand for many Brooklyn Dodger reunions.

Campanella appeared at many baseballs related events and got time on many television shows as well.

Hollywood: He made TV appearances on Lassie, What’s My Line & a biographical movie about his life, called the Roy Campanella Story. Campy appeared on tv commercials & magazine ads during his playing time as well.

1969 World Series: In the 1969 World Series he threw out a ceremonial first pitch at Shea Stadium.

Passing: In 1993 he passed away from a fatal heart attack at age 71, he was & is a true legend & an inspiration to all.



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