“You have to have a lot of little boy in you to play baseball for a living.” - Roy Campanella
Roy Campanella was born on November 19, 1921, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and he died on June 26, 1993 in Woodland Hills, California.
When Campanella was fourteen, while playing baseball, he attracted the attention of a Negro League scout, and after playing only two games with a semi-pro team, he signed with the Negro National Leagues’ Baltimore Elite Giants as a catcher, playing with them for seven seasons. He played winter ball in Puerto Rico and Cuba, while spending the summer season with Baltimore. Campanella played two years in the Mexican League during a contract dispute.
Although the Negro and Major Leagues were segregated at the time, they did play against each other in exhibition games. During one of these games, Branch Rickey, who ran the Brooklyn Dodgers, offered “Campy” a contract. Campanella thought it was for another Negro League team, and turned down the offer. Talking to Jackie Robinson later, he found out that Robinson was also offered a contract to play for the actual Brooklyn Dodgers. Campenella had the chance to right his mistake, and shortly afterwards signed his own contract with the Dodgers, and thus became the second black man to play Major League baseball. Campy debuted for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1948 and held down the catching job through 1957, helping to lead the Dodgers to five pennants and a World Series title. He was one of baseball’s most knowledgable, talented and likeable players. He played on five pennant-winning Dodger clubs during his career.
Campanella was an eight-time National League All-Star and he was named the National League MVP three times in 1951, 1953, and 1955. He led National League catchers in putouts six times, and hit a total of 242 home runs as a catcher.
1953 was Campanella’s best season, when he set the single-season record for catchers with 41 homeruns and a National League best 142 RBIs. He also set career-highs in games, at-bats, and had 103 runs, 67 walks, and a slugging percentage of .611.
Roy Campanella’s final major league game, September 29, 1957, was also the last Major League game ever played at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. After the 1957 season, the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles. Prior to the 1958 season, Campanella’s career was tragically cut short when he was paralyzed in an automobile accident in New York, when the car he was driving slid off an icy highway and crashed head-on into a light pole.
On May 7, 1959, a “Roy Campanella Night” tribute exhibition game was arranged between the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Dodgers at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. A major league record crowd of 93,103 attended the game and saluted Campanella, even though he had never played in Los Angeles, having been injured before the Dodgers moved from Brooklyn. An emotional Roy Campanella addressed the crowd from his wheelchair saying, “I thank God that I’m living to be here. I thank ... everyone of you from the bottom of my heart.” After Campy finished his remarks, the lights went out and everyone in attendance lit a match to honor his courage.
In later years, Campanella helped to coach and advise Dodger catchers, especially at Vero Beach. He also worked in the Community Relations Department for the Dodgers. Campanella was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1969.