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Roy Campanella

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Brooklyn Dodgers 1948-57
Retirement is a difficult thing for most athletes to deal with.  The cheers of the crowd fade away, the camaraderie of being part of the team leaves a void, and the structure in their lives vanishes.  Roy Campanella should have had it so easy, not only did his career end prematurely, but he was left to live the rest of his life without use of his arms or legs.


Roy Campanella was born on November 19, 1921 to a black woman and Italian man in Philadelphia, PA.  In 1937, at age 15, Campanella was already playing for a local semi-pro team when he caught the eye of the Negro League’s Baltimore Elite Giants.  Since he was still in school, Campanella was limited to weekend duty that first year. 


In 1939, the youngster became the Elite Giants everyday receiver and led the team to playoffs.  In 1941, Campanella jumped to the Mexican League when he refused to pay a $250 fine imposed by team owner Tom Wilson.  After spending the next two seasons south of the border making just $100 per month, he returned to Baltimore when Wilson offered a $3,000 salary to his former star.  Campanella never did pay that fine.


In 1946, shortly after signing Jackie Robinson, the Brooklyn Dodgers inked Campanella and assigned him to their Class-B farm team in Nashua, NH.  After winning the Eastern League MVP, he moved up to the International League’s Montreal team where he took home that league’s MVP.


Campy made his major league debut on April 20, 1948 and finished that season with a .258 average, 9 homeruns and 45 RBI in 83 games.  In 1949, the Pennsylvania native became Brooklyn’s regular catcher, hitting .287 with 22 homers and 82 RBI in 130 games.  The Dodgers meanwhile, won the NL pennant, but fell in 5 games to the cross-town Yankees in the World Series. 


After another solid year in 1950, the 29-year-old was named NL MVP in 1951, after hitting .325 with 33 homeruns and 108 RBI.  Although his production dipped in 1952 (.269, 22 HR, 97 RBI), the Dodgers won another NL pennant before dropping a seven game World Series to the Yankees.


In 1953, Campanella hit .312 with 41 homers, 103 runs scored, and a league leading 142 RBI (all career highs).  The season also included another NL pennant and another World Series loss to the Yankees. The 1954 season was a miserable one for Campanella.  The veteran catcher chipped a bone in his left hand in Spring Training and never fully recovered, hitting just .207 in 111 games. 


Campy bounced back in 1955, hitting .318 with 32 homers and 117 RBI en route to his third and final MVP award.   The Dodgers, later dubbed “The Boys of Summer”, won another NL pennant and actually upended the Yankees in a thrilling 7 game Fall Classic.  It was the only World Series the Dodgers would win in Brooklyn.


The even year slump continued in 1956 for Campanella, as he hit just .219 in 124 games, but the Dodgers still managed to win their fifth NL pennant in seven years before falling yet again to the Yankees in the World Series.


At age 35, Campanella returned to action in 1957, but was unable to regain his old form, hitting .242 with 13 homers in 103 games.  Then in January 1958, after it had been announced that the Dodgers were moving across the country to Los Angeles, Campanella was involved in a single car accident that rendered him a quadriplegic.


Refusing to let the affliction stop him from leading a productive life, Campanella remained an active part of the Dodgers community relations department.  Regarded as one of the finest catchers of all time, Campy was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1969.


In 10 big league seasons, Campanella hit .276 with 1,161 hits, 242 homeruns, and 856 RBI.  An inspiration to thousands throughout the remainder of his life, Roy Campanella died on June 26, 1993 in Woodland Hills, CA.  He was 71.


-David Zingler, December 2004


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