Roy Campanella

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Roy Campanella
(Campy, Poochinella)

Inducted into Hall of Fame in 1969

BR page

Biographical Information[edit]

"Roy Campanella came up to the Dodgers during the season and I could see he was a great catcher. He'd get your eye. He was kind of a roly-poly guy with that gear on, but he moved good for his size and he hit, threw and received the ball so well. He did everything good. He was also a great guy, an ideal man to have on a ballclub." - Andy Seminick, to Danny Peary, We Played The Game

1954 Wilson

A three-time Most Valuable Player with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Roy Campanella is routinely listed among the best major league catchers of all-time.

Family and youth[edit]

Campanella was the son of a Sicilian father named John and an African-American mother named Ida. He grew up in the Nicetown neighborhood of Philadelphia, where he played sandlot ball for Nicetown Colored Athletic Club or the Nicetown Giants. He also played American Legion ball with Loudenslager Post No. 366. A high school star in Philadelphia, he was reportedly invited for a tryout for the Philadelphia Phillies before they discovered he was black.

Early career; Mackey's understudy[edit]

In 1937, a 15-year-old Roy signed with the Baltimore Elite Giants, quitting high school to study catching under Hall of Famer Biz Mackey. Roy later credited Mackey with teaching him everything he knew. He played sparingly in 1938 and hit .273 in 1939. Mackey was dealt that year to the Newark Eagles and Campy became the starter. Roy hit .310 with a homer in a dramatic postseason game against the legendary Josh Gibson and the Homestead Grays; Josh, in the prime of his career, clearly outperformed the youngster at the plate. Campanella played in the Puerto Rican Winter League in 1939-40 and hit .263 with 8 homers, tying for the league lead with Buck Leonard. At age 18 in 1940, Roy hit .284 with 5 home runs in 88 at bats, splitting catching duties with Bill Perkins. Campy emerged as a star in 1941, hitting .338 (fifth in the Negro National League), batting fifth in the order. He started for the East in the 1941 East-West Game, going 1 for 5 with an error while hitting sixth.

Suspension and flight to Mexico[edit]

Roy hit .300 for Baltimore in 1942 but was suspended for playing in an exhibition game for the Cincinnati Buckeyes without permission. He was fined $250 by the NNL, after which he jumped ship and was suspended indefinitely. Roy signed with the Monterrey Industrials and hit .296/~.367/.494 in the 20 games that year after he came south and .289/~.375/.494 in 1943 with 12 homers and 74 runs scored. Overall, he hit .291/~.374/.494 in the Mexican League. For comparison's sake, Gibson had batted .393/~.496/.802 in Mexico in the two prior seasons.

Back to Baltimore and winter ball in three countries[edit]

After hitting .266 in the 1943-44 Cuban Winter League, Campanella rejoined Baltimore, having patched up his differences. He was the club's offensive leader, batting .437. He made the East team for the 1944 East-West Game, but was on the bench as Gibson started. Campanella came on as a pinch hitter and stayed in at third base, going 1 for 2 with a run scored and RBI. He hit .294 that winter in the Puerto Rican Winter League. In the 1945 season, Roy hit .290 for Baltimore and also won a game as a pitcher. His 7 doubles were third in the Negro National League and his 4 homers tied for third, though he was 7 behind the leader, Gibson. In his last East-West Game, he went 2 for 5 with a run scored as the East's catcher and was voted game MVP by journalists and given the Olde Tymer A.C. Trophy. Overall, he hit .333/~.333/.333 in 12 at bats in three East-West games. He hit a very disappointing .211 in the Venezuelan League that winter. Campanella learned to speak Spanish rather well thanks to this winter ball exposure. He would later help Spanish-speaking teammates such as Sandy Amorós.

In the minor leagues[edit]

Roy joined Jackie Robinson as one of the first black players signed by Branch Rickey to the Brooklyn Dodgers at the end of 1945/beginning of 1946. In 1946, Campanella and Don Newcombe integrated the New England League. Playing for the Nashua Dodgers, the backstop batted .290/~.393/.477 with 96 RBI, 16 steals, 64 walks, 75 runs scored, 8 triples and 13 homers. He finished second to Mo Mozzali in RBI and helped Nashua to the title, winning the MVP award in the process. He played for San Juan in the Puerto Rican Winter League and only batted .222 in 45 at-bats. In 1947, Campy batted .273/~.368/.432 with the Montreal Royals as they finished just one-half game behind the pennant winners. Rickey next selected Roy to integrate the American Association. Roy was hitting .325 with 13 homers for the St. Paul Saints when he was finally called up to Brooklyn.

In the majors[edit]

Campanella seen in a commercial for Gillette Super-Speed Razors

Roy hit the ground running in Brooklyn, making the All-Star team in eight of his first nine seasons in the major leagues (1949 to 1956). He won the MVP Award three times, oddly enough all in odd numbered years, tying a record for most MVP hardware at the time. In 1951, he batted a robust .325/.393/.590 (159 OPS+) with 33 home runs, 108 RBI and 90 runs scored, besting the great Stan Musial in voting points, 243-191. In 1953, he enjoyed his finest season (and one of the finest seasons by any catcher in history) hitting .312/.395/.611 (154 OPS+) with a personal best 41 home runs, 103 runs scored and a league leading 142 RBI, establishing a record for catchers that has not been broken. He steamrolled the competition with 297 voting points, 81 clear of runner-up Eddie Mathews. In 1955, he enjoyed his last elite season, batting .318/.395/.583 (152 OPS+) with 32 home runs, 107 RBI and 81 runs scored, narrowly besting teammate Duke Snider 226-221 in the MVP vote.

One of the top sluggers of the era, Roy finished third in the NL in homers twice and fifth once. He led the NL once in RBI (his '53 MVP season) and was in the top five in OPS three times. During his career, he established himself as arguably the greatest NL catcher in history, at least in terms of offense, with Gabby Hartnett being the closest competition. Campanella also suffered his share of injuries, as is often the case with catchers. As a result, he had some off years, three times posting an OPS+ under 90 and twice hitting under .220. Overall, in ten seasons, he hit to a .276/.360/.500 line with 242 home runs, 856 RBI and 627 runs scored in 1,215 games.

Campy was an integral member of the famed "Boys of Summer", who brought the World Series title home to Flatbush for the only time in their history, toppling the hated New York Yankees in 1955. Of course, he was also in the trenches in 1952, 1953 and 1956, when those same Yankees toppled them. In 32 World Series games, Roy hit only .237/.310/.386 in 114 at bats. He did crack four homers in Fall Classics, including two in the Dodgers '55 triumph. His main Boys of Summer compatriots included Duke Snider (5852), Jackie Robinson (5369), Gil Hodges (4758) and Pee Wee Reese (4385).

Campanella was also a superior defensive catcher. A Retrosheet study found that he nailed 57.4% of opposing base stealers during his career. That is by far the best figure of any catcher in the survey, which covered the period from 1957 onward (although play-by-play data was available for all of Campy's career).

Through 2019, he is one of only 16 major leaguers to catch three or more no-hitters:

In other media[edit]

Roy made two appearances on Person to Person with famed newsman Edward R. Murrow. He was featured on episodes airing October 6, 1953 and January 2, 1959. He was the mystery guest on the classic series What's My Line? airing September 6, 1953. He coached Timmy Martin's team on a 1959 episode of Lassie and was once honored on the classic This Is Your Life. In song, he is name dropped in "Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball?" as well as Billy Joel's ode to throwing a bunch of things together over music sequentially, 1989's "We Didn't Start The Fire".

Campy's autobiography, It's Good To Be Alive, was published in 1959. A heavily fictionalized version was turned into a 1974 made for TV movie starring Paul Winfield and directed by Michael Landon. In 2011, a biography of his life was penned by Neil Lanctot titled Campy -- The Two Lives of Roy Campanella.

End of career and afterward[edit]

Roy Campanella cropped NYWTS.jpg

On January 28, 1958, Campanella was involved in a career-ending automobile accident that left him permanently paralyzed. He never played a game in the majors after age 35. He played for the last Brooklyn club and never played for a Los Angeles Dodgers team.

Roy was a surprisingly busy man after he got out of the hospital in late 1958. His health was delicate, but he was still tending to his business ventures (and the misadventures of his wayward stepson, David). He attended spring training at Vero Beach and went out to L.A. for a big night in his honor at the Los Angeles Coliseum on May 7, 1959; attendance was 93,103. He appeared at Yonkers Raceway on July 1st. In August, he even acted in an episode of the TV show Lassie. Among all these other activities, he fit in the formation of a semipro ballclub at Ebbets Field called the Brooklyn Stars.

Campy was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1969. On June 4, 1972, his #39 was retired by the Dodgers. Before he died of a heart attack on June 26, 1993, he had continued to serve as an instructor at spring training and as a member of the Dodgers' community service division in Los Angeles. His grandson, Derek Williams [1], also a catcher, played two years in the minors.

Honors[edit]

Roy is highlighted in Heroes Behind the Mask and countless publications as one of the top catchers of all-time.

When Campanella was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1969, he was one of Cooperstown's first black inductees. He was voted into Mexico' Salon de la Fama two years later, an interesting choice. While other Negro League stars like Gibson and Monte Irvin were voted into the Salon based on one or two season careers, they had dominant years, whereas Campanella had merely been "good" in his one-and-a-bit seasons in Mexico.

He was honored by the U.S. Postal Service with a commemorative stamp in 2006 [2]. Later that year, the Dodgers created the Roy Campanella Award, given annually to the player that best exemplifies Campy's leadership and spirit.

Negro Leagues Career Statistics[edit]

Year Team League G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB BA SLG
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
1937 Washington Elite Giants NNL 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000
1928 Baltimore Elite Giants NNL 5 13 3 4 0 0 0 1 0 1 .308 .308
1939 Baltimore Elite Giants NNL 17 55 7 15 1 0 1 6 0 3 .273 .345
1940 Baltimore Elite Giants NNL 27 88 13 25 3 1 5 21 1 4 .284 .511
1941 Baltimore Elite Giants NNL 25 80 16 27 7 2 4 23 2 11 338 .625
1942 Baltimore Elite Giants NNL 30 110 18 33 3 3 1 28 1 10 .300 .409
1943 played in Mexican League
1944 Baltimore Elite Giants
Philadelphia Stars
NNL
NNL
21
1
84
3
19
2
37
1
10
0
1
0
2
0
23
0
2
1
3
1
.440
.333
.333
.333
1945 Baltimore Elite Giants NNL 9 31 8 9 1 1 1 5 0 6 .290 .484
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Total 8 seasons 137 466 86 151 25 8 14 107 7 39 .324 .502
per 162 games 0.85 162 551 102 179 30 9 17 127 8 46 .324 .502

Source: Shades of Glory, Hogan et al., ppg. 382-385

Notable Achievements[edit]

  • 1946 MVP New England League Nashua Dodgers
  • 8-time NL All-Star (1949-1956)
  • 3-time NL MVP (1951, 1953 & 1955)
  • NL RBI Leader (1953)
  • 20-Home Run Seasons: 7 (1949-1953, 1955 & 1956)
  • 30-Home Run Seasons: 4 (1950, 1951, 1953 & 1955)
  • 40-Home Run Seasons: 1 (1953)
  • 100 RBI Seasons: 3 (1951, 1953 & 1955)
  • 100 Runs Scored Seasons: 1 (1953)
  • Won a World Series with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1955
  • Baseball Hall of Fame: Class of 1969


NL MVP
1950 1951 1952
Jim Konstanty Roy Campanella Hank Sauer
1952 1953 1954
Hank Sauer Roy Campanella Willie Mays
1954 1955 1956
Willie Mays Roy Campanella Don Newcombe

Sources[edit]

The Mexican League: Comprehensive Player Statistics by Pedro Treto Cisneros, The International League: Year-by-Year Statistics by Marshall Wright, 1947 Baseball Guide, Pat Doyle's Professional Baseball Player Database, Black Baseball's National Showcase by Larry Lester, The Complete Book of Baseball's Negro Leagues by John Holway, The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues by James Riley

Further Reading[edit]

  • "Big Man from Nicetown", Time, August 8, 1955. [3]
  • Roy Campanella: It's Good to Be Alive, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, NE, 1995.
  • Roger Kahn: "Manchild at Fifty", in The Boys of Summer, Perennial Classics, Harper and Collins Publishers, New York, NY, 2000, pp. 355-373 (originally published in 1972).
  • William C. Kashatus: Jackie and Campy: The Untold Story of Their Rocky Relationship and the Breaking of Baseball's Color Line, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, NE, 2014. ISBN 978-0803246331
  • Neil Lanctot: Campy: The Two Lives of Roy Campanella, Simon & Schuster, New York, NY, 2011.
  • Joel Rippel: "Two African American Pioneers Cross Paths: Roy Campanella and Carl Rowan", in Daniel R. Levitt, ed.: Short but Wondrous Summers: Baseball in the North Star State, The National Pastime, Volume 42 (2012), pp. 51-52.
  • Rick Swaine: "Roy Campanella", in Bill Nowlin, ed.: Van Lingle Mungo: The Man, The Song, The Players, SABR, Phoenix, AZ, 2014, pp. 246-253. ISBN 978-1-933599-76-2

Related Sites[edit]