Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Happy Baseball Birthday...Roy Campanella

Today's Happy Baseball Birthday! is former big league catcher Roy Campanella.

Roy Campanella was born on November 19, 1921, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Roy attended Simon Gratz High School in Philadelphia.

At age 16 "Campy" left school to play pro baseball with the Washington Elite Giants of the Negro National League, and became a star after the team moved to Baltimore in 1938.

Campy played in the Mexican League in 1942 and '43 before  signing on with the Brooklyn Dodgers as a amatuer free agent in 1946.

Campy made his way through the Dodgers farm system and made his big league debut with the Brooklyn club on April 20, 1948.

Campy quickly became the standard for all big league catchers, both at the bat and behind the plate.

Roy Campanella caught 1,183 ball games in his ten years as a Dodger, commiting just 85 errors in 7,155 chances, collecting 6,520 putouts and 550 career assists.

Campy finished with a career .988 fielding percentage, leading the National League in 1952 (.994), and 1957(.993).

Campy also led the N.L. in assists by a catcher In 1951 and is #1 All-Time with a record caught stealing percentage of 57.4%.

There were no Gold Glove Awards in Campy's prime, but its pretty safe to say he would've won quite a few in his hey day as a big league backstop.

There are many debates as to who the best catcher in baseball history is, including Campy, Yogi Berra, Johnny Bench, Bill Dickey, and Mickey Cochran.

In my opinion there are two reasons baseball history hasn't and cannot proclaim Campy as baseball's best backstop.

Neither was Campy's fault.

The first is color.

Roy Campanella  was half Italian and half African-American.

Campy made his big league debut at the age of 26 when he started with the Brooklyn Dodgers, but started playing pro ball at age 16 with the Elite Giants of the Negro Leagues.

That's 10 year's that Campy, because he was a black man, couldn't play baseball in the big leagues.

The second was purely an accident.

Roy Campanell was returning home from closing his store, Roy Campanella Liqours, when he hit a patch of ice driving in the early moring hours on January 28, 1958.

The accident left Campy paralyzed, ending his ability to walk,  and tnus ending a brilliant baseball career.

How many more years Campy could've played after age 36 is unknown, however, three or so years added to his age 16-25 years that he wasn't allowed to play would've given Campanella hitting stats that no catcher would ever break.

In his 10 years in the big league Roy Campanella played in 1,215 ballgames, collecting 1,161 base hits, 252 home runs, 856 RBI, with 627 runs scored, 18 triples and 178 doubles in 4, 815 plate appearances.

Roy Campanella was the National League MVP three times, 1951, '53, and '55.

That last MVP in 1955 came in the magical Brookly Dodgers World Series Championship season, the only title the Dodgers won playing in Flatbush.

Campy's last game as a ballplayer was at Ebbets Field, on September 29, 1957.

It also the final big league baseball game ever played at the Dodgers famed ballpark.

The Dodgers were headed to Los Angeles, leaving the Burrough of Brooklyn without they're beloved 'Bums.

The Dodgers also went on to California without  Campy, but they never forgot him.

The Dodgers hosted Roy Campanella Night on May 7, 1959, at the Los Angeles Coliseum.

A big league record 93,103 attended the special exhibition baseball game between the Dodgers and the World Series Champion New York Yankees.

The Yankees won the contest, 6-2, but the big winner that night were baseball fans, fans who got to honor Campy for the pure joy he gave them as a ballplayer and as a remarkable man.

Campy wrote an autobiography, "It's Good to be Alive," in 1959, and the book was made into a made for TV movie in 1974, starring Paul Winfield, who played Campy.

Roy Campanella served the Dodgers in the front office after his accident, first as a assistant scout supervisor, then mentoring and teaching young baseball players at the Dodgers spring training complex in Vero Beach, Florida.

Campy moved to Los Angeles and joined his old teammate Don Newcombe as a an assistant Director of Community Relations.

In 1969, on his 7th try on the ballot, Roy Campanella was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.

Campy was also inducted onto the Mexican Baseball League Hall of Fame in 1971.

On June 4, 1972, the Los Angeles Dodgers retired Roy Campanella's uniform #39, along with fellow Brooklyn Dodgers teammates Sandy Koufax's #32 and Jackie Robinson's #42.

As a kid learning about baseball on the 1970s, Roy  Campanella was on TV quite a bit, especially when the Dodgers got to the World Series.

I will always remember that big beaming smile of Campy's when he talked about baseball on TV, and he's my second favorite catcher of All-Time.

Roy Campanella passed away on June 26, 1993, in Woodland Hills, California.

Campy was 71 when he passed away,  35 years after that terrible accident that put him in that wheel chair at the age of 36.

Today we ccelebrate the life of Roy "Campy" Campanella.

Happy Baseball Birthday Campy!


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