Summary

Birth:
19 Nov 1921 1
Death:
26 Jun 1993 1
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Personal Details

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Full Name:
Roy Campanella 1
Birth:
19 Nov 1921 1
Death:
26 Jun 1993 1
Residence:
Last Residence: Woodland Hills, CA 1
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Social Security:
Social Security Number: ***-**-9993 1

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Stories

Roy Campanella, 71, Dies; Was Dodger Hall of Famer Part 1

Roy Campanella, the top National League catcher of his day whose career with the Brooklyn Dodgers was cut short by an automobile accident that left him paralyzed, died Saturday night at his home. He was 71 and lived in Woodland Hills, a suburb of Los Angeles.

The cause was a heart attack, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Dodgers said.

The accident transformed Campanella from a sports hero into a universal symbol of courage as he became an inspiration and spokesman for the handicapped.

He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1969 and had continued to serve as an instructor at spring training and as a member of the Dodgers' community-service division in Los Angeles.

Campanella, who joined the Dodgers in 1948 as one of the first black major leaguers, was an undisputed star of one of baseball's greatest teams, the storied "boys of summer" who won five National League pennants between 1949 and 1956. A Three-Time M.V.P.

A flawlessly graceful catcher and an astute handler of pitchers, Campanella, who was also a feared slugger, was named the league's most valuable player three times in his 10-year career, in 1951, 1953 and 1955.

He had his highest batting averages in 1951 (.325) and 1955 (.318), but his greatest season was in 1953. He had a .312 batting average that year and established three single-season records for a catcher: most putouts (807), most home runs (41) and most runs batted in (142).

Although his achievements as a power-hitting catcher were sometimes exceeded by those of his American League rival, Yogi Berra of the Yankees, Campanella at his height was the best catcher in baseball and one whose greatness seemed only partly reflected by his statistics.

This view was once summed up by Ty Cobb, the legendary outfielder who was one of the five original members of the Hall of Fame and a man not known for hyperbole. "Campanella," he said, "will be remembered longer than any catcher in baseball history."

Campanella, who ended his career with a .276 batting average, 1,161 hits, 242 home runs and 856 runs batted in, would have undoubtedly left an even more impressive record if his career had not been doubly shortened, first by baseball's color barrier, which kept him out of the majors until he was 26 years old, and then by the accident just two months after his 36th birthday.

At 5 feet 9 1/2 inches and 190 pounds, Campanella had the ideal build for a catcher. He was a short man whose somewhat rotund figure belied the rock-hard physique underneath. Seeing an Opportunity

Campanella, who is survived by his wife, Roxie; three sons, Roy Jr., Tony, John; and two daughters, Joanie and Ruth, was born in Philadelphia on Nov. 19, 1921. His father, John, was an Italian-American, and his mother, Ida, was black. In the America of the 1920's, that meant Campanella was black, too, and could aspire to no more than second-class stardom.

That came quickly enough, but it was not his build that led Campanella to squat down behind the plate when he first tried out for the Simon Gratz High School team. It was, rather, his discovery that no one else wanted the position and his realization that becoming a catcher would be the surest way to make the team.

His high school career was short-lived. In 1937, when he was 15, he joined a semipro black team, and by the time he was 16 he was the first-string catcher for the Baltimore Elite, one of the better teams in the Negro leagues.

Campy, as he was often known, almost immediately established his reputation as a workhorse by catching four games in a single day. And he likewise developed a reputation for shrugging off the inevitable injuries suffered behind the plate.

 

Roy Campanella, 71, Dies; Was Dodger Hall of Famer Part 2

"You didn't get hurt when you played in the Negro leagues," he later explained. "You played no matter what happened to you because if you didn't play, you didn't get paid."

Honing his skills by playing winter ball in Latin America, Campanella was much in demand, in part because he spoke Spanish and often managed the teams he played for. Offer From a Dodger

It was after such a stint in Venezuela in 1946 that Campanella was summoned to Brooklyn by Branch Rickey. The Dodgers' general manager, who had already laid the groundwork for breaking the major league color barrier by signing Jackie Robinson to a minor league contract, offered Campanella $185 a month to play for the Nashua, N.H., team of the New England League.

It meant a steep pay cut for Campanella, but the chance to help make baseball history was too tempting to pass up, and he accepted. He played the 1946 season with Walter Alston -- who later managed the Dodgers -- as his manager and roomed with another recent black recruit, a pitcher named Don Newcombe.

 

In 1947, the year Robinson became the first black player in the major leagues, Campanella played for Montreal, the Class AAA International League club for whom Robinson had played the year before.

Campanella joined the Dodgers the next year at a $5,000 annual salary, but after three games he was sent down to St. Paul, not because it was felt he needed more seasoning but because Rickey wanted him to break the color barrier in the American Association, a chore that earned Campanella a $1,500 raise.

After 35 games, at the insistence of the Brooklyn manager, Leo Durocher, Campanella was called back to the parent club and stayed, playing 83 games his rookie season. A String of Injuries

Over the next nine seasons, Campanella suffered and survived repeated injuries. But they took a toll.

Campanella suffered problems with his left hand and was unable to move the third and little fingers laterally, but he caught 111 games in 1954, anyway.

"I can grip a bat and I can grip a ball," he said, "and that's all that counts."

Still, Campanella, realizing that he could not play baseball forever, decided to find a business that would provide security for his wife and five children in future years. He opened a liquor store in Harlem, which prospered.

It was while driving from the store to his home in Glen Cove, L.I., in the early morning hours of Jan. 28, 1958, that Campanella suffered the injury that ended his career. His car skidded on a wet spot near the crest of a hill, crashed into a telephone pole and overturned, fracturing two of Campanella's vertebrae.

A four-and-a-half-hour operation by five surgeons at the Glen Cove Community Hospital was credited with saving his life, but nothing could restore movement to his body below the shoulders.

He underwent rehabilitation at the Rusk Institute of the New York University-Bellevue Medical Center, where his determination shone through from the beginning.

Campanella recounted his first days of therapy in his 1959 book, "It's Good to Be Alive," which was made into a television movie in 1974. When the institute's founder, Dr. Howard A. Rusk, lectured him on how hard he would have to work and how discouraged he would get and then asked, "Do you think you're ready for it?" Campanella had a ready reply:

"When do we start?"

In the aftermath of the accident, Campanella suffered a series of further setbacks. His first marriage deteriorated and his home had to be sold to pay debts, but his gritty determination to make a life for himself in a wheelchair won him even more fame and admiration than he had enjoyed as a baseball star.

That became apparent on May 8, 1959, when 93,103 paying fans, the largest crowd in baseball history, filled the Los Angeles Coliseum for an exhibition game between the Dodgers and the Yankees dedicated to Campanella. During the evening the stadium's lights were darkened and the fans lighted matches in honor of Campanella, who received about $75,000 from the gate receipts.

Ten years later, when he was elected to the Hall of Fame, Campanella, the second black player (after Robinson) to be so honored, beamed.

"This completes my baseball career," he said. "All my disappointments are behind me. There is nothing more I could ask for in baseball."

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