Roy Campanella Biography
Roy Campanella's life and baseball career.
Roy Campanella was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on November 19, 1921. He began playing professional baseball in an era that African-Americans could barely dream of playing in the major league and was the first black catcher in major league baseball history.
In 1937, Campanella played with the Bacharach Giants, a semi-pro team before playing as the starting catcher for the Baltimore Elite Giants in the Negro National League. He, like many African-American players, spent his winters playing ball in Latin America. Campanella was granted a deferment during World War II since he had two children. He went to play in the Mexican League in 1942 but returned to the Giants in 1944.
Branch Rickey and the Brooklyn Dodgers were looking for African-American players to integrate major league baseball. They first signed Jackie Robinson and then soon afterward in 1946 they signed Campanella. He played in the minor league for two years and then made a brief appearance with the Dodgers early in 1948. Next, he was sent back to the minor league in an attempt to integrate the American Association. He was promptly called back to the Dodgers after hitting 13 home runs in 35 games there. The 26-year old Campanella had a batting average of .258 in 83 games in 1948. In 1949, his batting average was .287. Campanella hit 22 home runs that year and earned a spot on the All-Star team in addition to helping the Dodgers win the National League pennant in 1949.
Campanella hit 33 home runs and 108 RBIs with a batting average of .325 in 1951. He led the league in RBIs with 142 in 1953, hit 41 home runs and had a batting average of .312 for the year. Campanella batted .318, hit 32 home runs and had 107 RBIs in 1955.
The Dodgers won four National League pennants with Campanella in 1949, 1953, 1954, and 1955. They won their first World Series Championship in 1955. Campanella won the National League Most Valuable Player award in 1951, 1953, and 1955. He was also named to 8 All-Star teams during his career. Campanella was an anchor behind the plate for the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1948-1957 and one of the best catchers in the National League then. He may have broken the color barrier in major league baseball but Campanella will long be remembered for his brilliant offensive and defensive skills. He will also be remembered for the tragedy that cut short a bright and prospering career.
On January 28, 1958 Campanella was driving to his home on Long Island when his car skidded across a patch of ice in the road and slammed into a telephone pole. Campanella suffered two broken vertebrae in his neck and was paralyzed from the chest down. He was honored later that year at a pre-season game in Los Angeles, the Dodgers new home. A record crowd of over 93,000 fans came to see Campanella honored before the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Dodgers took the field.
Campanella was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1969. Campanella caught in 5 World Series including the Brooklyn Dodgers first World Series Championship in 1955. He won the National League's Most Valuable Player award in 1951, 1953, and 1955. He was also named to 8 All-Star Teams. In his 10-year major league career of 1215 games, Campanella hit 242 home runs, 18 triples, and 178 doubles. His lifetime batting average was .276 and he hit 856 career RBIs.
Campanella was a spring training coach with the Dodgers for many years. He wrote an autobiography titled It's Good to Be Alive and later it was adapted into a made-for-television movie.
Campanella died on June 26, 1993 in Woodland Hills, California. His remains were cremated and laid to rest at Forest Lawn in Hollywood Hills, California.