Roy Campanella

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Roy Campanella cropped NYWTS.jpg

Roy Campanella
(Campy, Poochinella)

Inducted into Hall of Fame in 1969

BR page

Biographical Information[edit]

1954 Wilson

A three-time Most Valuable Player for the Brooklyn Dodgers, Roy Campanella is often listed as one of the three 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, the 15-year-old 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 about catching. He played sparingly in 1938 and hit .273 in 1939. Mackey was dealt that year to the Newark Eagles and Campy became the starter at that point. Roy hit .310 with a homer in a dramatic post-season match against Josh Gibson and the Homestead Grays; Josh 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 HR in 88 AB, 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 now. 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 he jumped ship and was suspended indefinitely. Campanella 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. 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. The 22-year-old made the East team for the 1944 East-West Game, but was on the bench as Gibson started. Campanella came in as a pinch-hitter and stayed in at third base, going 1 for 2 with a run 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 as the East's catcher and was voted as the game MVP by journalists and given the Olde Tymer A.C. Trophy. Overall, he hit .333/~.333/.333 in 12 AB in three East-West appearances. He hit a very disappointing .211 in the Venezuelan League that winter.

Campanella learned to speak Spanish rather well thanks to his winter ball exposure. He would later help Spanish-speaking teammates such as Sandy Amorós.

In the minor leagues[edit]

The veteran joined newcomer Jackie Robinson as one of the first black players signed by Branch Rickey. 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, 8 triples and 13 homers. He was 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 a half-game behind the pennant-winners. Rickey then selected Roy to integrate the American Association. The catcher was hitting .325 with 13 homers for the 1948 St. Paul Saints when he was finally called up to Brooklyn.

In the majors[edit]

Roy made the All-Star team his first eight years in the major leagues and won the MVP Award three times, tying the record at the time. One of the top sluggers of the era, he finished third in the league in homers twice and was fifth once, peaking at 41 long balls. He led the National League once in RBI and was in the top five in OPS three times. He was arguably the greatest NL catcher to that point in terms of offense, with Gabby Hartnett being the closest competition.

Campanella seen in a commercial for Gillette Super-Speed Razors

Campanella suffered 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 while batting .300 three times and topping a 150 OPS+ three times. In 1953, he set the major league record for RBI by a catcher (142), since unbroken. He was a member of the famed "Boys of Summer", who reached the World Series in 1952 and 1953, only to lose to the New York Yankees both times, and of the 1955 Dodgers team that won the first title in the club's long history in the NL. Through 2006, he is one of only 15 major leaguers to catch three no-hitters:

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).

End of career and afterward[edit]

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 Campanella 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, FL and went out to Los Angeles, CA for the 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 semi-pro ballclub at Ebbets Field called the Brooklyn Stars.

Campy was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1969. 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 minor leagues.


He is highlighted in Heroes Behind the Mask and other 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 the Salon de la Fama two years later, a very odd 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].

His main teammates included Duke Snider (5852), Jackie Robinson (5369), Gil Hodges (4758), Pee Wee Reese (4385), or in other words the core members of the great Brooklyn teams that dominated the National League from 1947-1956.

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
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

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


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]