Roy Campanella (1921
) was one of the greatest baseball catchers
of all time, and also one of the most beloved. As the catcher for the legendary "Boys of Summer
" Brooklyn Dodgers
team that dominated the National League
in the 1950s
, "Campy" won three MVP
awards in a five year span from 1951
. In an age of weak-hitting catchers, Campanella dominated in all aspects of the game thanks to a cannon arm, outstanding pitch-handling abilities, and a mighty bat. His best season at the plate was 1953
, when he batted .312, smashed 41 home runs
, drove in 142 run
s, and scored 103.
Born in Philadelphia to a black mother and an Italian father, Campanella excelled in baseball at an early age, but did not reach the majors until he was 26 due to the color barrier. Yet so spectacular were his skills that he was signed out of high school by the Negro League Baltimore Elite Giants at the tender age of 15. Campy played nine seasons of Negro League ball, becoming a bonified superstar and causing several major league scouts to admit that he was the best catcher in game - black or white. In 1945 he signed with the Dodgers as a minor leaguer and made the Brooklyn club in 1948, a year after Jackie Robinson.
Only 5'8", Campy combined toughness on the field with a gentle disposition off the field to become one of the most beloved ballplayers of his day. Tragically, Campanella was paralyized from the neck down in a car accident following the 1957 season, ending his career at only 35. But Campy kept smiling. A hero to blacks, Italians, and Brooklynites as a player, Campy now became a hero to disabled people as well, becoming a spokesman for their cause, and a shining example of cheerfulness in the face of adversity. Campanella naver gave in to despair despite a brutal physical therapy program, and long outlived the expected lifespan for someone with his injuries.
Campanella was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1969.
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