Roy Campanella was born
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