“You have to have a lot of little boy in you to play baseball for a living.”
Roy Campanella was born on this day in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA in 1921. Today is the 91st anniversary of his birth.
Campanella’s father, John, was an Italian American, his mother, Ida was African-American. The family lived in a rough section of Philly known, ironically as Nicetown. Roy was one of five children. As a kid he did odd jobs like delivering newspapers, shining shoes and cutting grass, to help out with family finances. He was athletic and loved to play baseball, but he knew that the color barrier meant that would be barred from playing in the Major Leagues. He “started out on Philadelphia’s sand lots and by the age 15 was signed on to the Negro leagues.” [Biography.com] By 11th grade he dropped out so he could play ball full-time.
For the next decade, Campanella excelled in the segregated world of black baseball, barnstorming on buses across the country and playing winter ball in Mexico, the Caribbean, and Latin America. He was such a natural leader and had such an astute baseball mind that he often managed clubs he played for in Latin America. [Gale Encyclopedia of Biography: Roy Campanella]
The man they called “Campy” was the complete package, leading National League catchers in putouts six times, and clubbing 242 home runs in his 10-year Major League career. From 1948-1957, Roy Campanella was securely anchored behind home plate for the Brooklyn Dodgers. [The Official Roy Campanella Site.]
He played in eight straight All-Star games, starting in 1949 (he, Robinson, Larry Doby and Don Newcombe were the first African-American men to play in the All-Star game.)
He caught in five World Series, won the National League Most Valuable Player award in 1951, 1953, and 1955, and was the first black catcher in Major League Baseball history. In 1969, he joined baseball’s elite with his induction into the Hall of Fame. [The Official Roy Campanella Site.]
The Dodgers moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles, California after the 1957 Baseball season and Campy was set to go with them, but that was not to be. While driving to his Long Island home late on January 28, 1958 his car hit a patch of ice and skidded into a telephone pole. Campanella was badly injured and left paralyzed from the shoulders down. He eventually regained the use of his arms and hands, but he would never walk again.
Although he couldn’t play he maintained ties with the Dodgers.
The Dodgers hired him as a special instructor, and for 20 years he helped groom many young catchers during spring training. He also worked with disabled people through the Dodgers’ community-service division. He was expert at cheering up people. Campanella once said: “People look at me and get the feeling that if a guy in a wheelchair can have such a good time, they can’t be too bad off after all.” Scully observed: “He looked upon life as a catcher. He was forever cheering up, pepping up, counseling people.” [Gale Encyclopedia of Biography: Roy Campanella]
- Roy Campanella (hilobrow.com)
- A.J. Ellis Wins Seventh Annual Roy Campanella Award (savethedodgers.com)
- 20,000 days since Roy Campanella’s car crash (hardballtimes.com)