Baseball: An Encyclopedia of Popular Culture

By Edward J. Rielly | Go to book overview
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CAMPANELLA, ROY (CAMPY) (1921–1993) Roy Campanella joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1948, one year after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier with the same club, and became one of the great catchers in the major leagues. Even more significantly, he was the first African American catcher to make it in the big leagues, establishing himself at a position analogous to quarterback in football. The catcher calls all the pitches, and Campanella’s pitchers were white in his first year, although Don Newcombe joined the team in 1949. To assume such leadership on the top National League team of the era required not only considerable playing ability but also the right personality.

Campy brought all the necessary attributes at the plate and behind it. A powerful and consistent hitter, as well as an outstanding defensive catcher, Campanella three times won the National League Most Valuable Player Award, in 1951, 1953, and 1955. His greatest season was 1953, when he set major league records for most home runs (41) and runs batted in (142) by a catcher. He also recorded the most putouts (807) by a catcher.

Campanella was fond of saying, “You

Portrait of baseball player Roy Campanella,
Brooklyn Dodgers catcher, standing with bat in
an empty stadium, 1950s (Archive Photos)

gotta have a lot of little boy in you to be a good ballplayer.” He never lost that boyish enthusiasm, which contributed to his leadership. His zest for playing and his

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