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.