Baseball Legends: Roy Campanella (Dodgers 1948-1957)

May 15, 2008

“I never want to quit playing ball. They’ll have to cut this uniform off of me to get me out of it.” — Roy Campanella

Roy Campanella, known as “Campy”, is considered by many to be one of the best catchers ever to play baseball. While still in school at the age of just 15, he played on weekends for the Baltimore Elite Giants of the Negro National League. He was MVP of the 1941 East-West all-star game, then jumped to the Mexican League in 1942 and 1943. He came back to the Giants and led the league in doubles in 1944 and in RBIs in 1945.

Charlie Dressen was the opposing manager in October 1945 when Campanella played for a black all star team in an exhibition series against white major leaguers. The Dodgers soon signed him for Nashua, NH in the Eastern League. Playing under manager, Walter Alston, he hit .290, led the league in putouts, and assists, and won the MVP award. In 1947 he advanced to Montreal, the Dodgers’ International League team, and again was named the MVP.

Campanella was then brought up to the majors and for the next nine years caught for outstanding Brooklyn teams. He was very light on his feet and very agile for his build. He handled the Dodger staff with great insight and was respected by that glorious staff of hurlers. “The Boys of Summer” won National League pennants in 1949, 1952, 1953, 1955, and 1956, narrowly missed two others, and reached Brooklyn’s baseball history peak with its only World Series triumph in 1955.

Campanella won the MVP award three times in five years. In 1953, his best season, he batted .312, and scored 103 with 142 RBI, which led the league. He was an All Star every year from 1949 through 1956. He won the MVP award in the National League three times: in 1951, 1953, and 1955. In each of these seasons, he batted over .300, hit over 30 home runs and had over 100 runs batted in. In 1953, Campanella hit 40 home runs in games in which he appeared as a catcher, a record now held by Javy Lopez with 42.

“In the days when he caught, catching was basically a white position…. Catching was a thinking position that most of America didn’t think people like Campanella could handle. He broke the mold. Because of the mentality of the country, the mentality of baseball, to be black and an MVP meant he had to be head and shoulders above anybody else in the league.” — Dusty Baker

I remember Campanella appearing on a television sports show regularly after his automobile accident. I was very young and had only seen him play a few times prior to the accident. On numerous occasions he was asked if he would ever play again. His attitude was positive and hopeful, but as time went on reality sunk in. It was a lesson to me at an early age that you’re not guaranteed anything in this life, so make the most of what you have while you can.

Roy Campanella was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1969 with 79.41% of the vote.

See Campanella’s career statistics at baseball-reference.com.

Written by Bill at the Golden Age of Baseball Cards.


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