Oxford AASC: Campanella, Roy

Campanella, Roy

By: Robert Fay
 Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience, Second Edition What is This?

Campanella, Roy

One of the first African American star players in major league baseball.

Roy Campanella was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to John Campanella, an Italian fruit-stand dealer, and Ida Campanella, an African American woman. He began playing semiprofessional baseball with Philadelphia's Bacharach Giants when he was sixteen years old. After playing briefly with the Giants, Campanella joined the Baltimore Elites of the Negro National League (NNL). He starred in the NNL until 1946, when he signed a minor league contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Campanella played for Dodgers farm clubs until 1948—the year after Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier—when he became the Dodgers' starting catcher.

An excellent all-around player, “Campy” starred from 1948 to 1957, helping the Dodgers capture five National League (NL) pennants. He won the NL most valuable player (MVP) award three times, in 1951, 1953, and 1955. In 1951 he batted .325, with 33 home runs and 108 runs batted in (RBI). His best season was in 1953 when he hit 41 home runs and drove in 142 runs, both major league records for a catcher. He also set a defensive record that year with 807 putouts. Over his career, Campanella had a .276 batting average, 242 home runs, and 856 RBI; these totals would have been greater had the major leagues not prohibited African American players until 1947. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1969.

In January 1958, Campanella's baseball career was cut short by an automobile accident that left him a quadriplegic. He remained a Dodger, however, serving as an instructor in the minor league and a community-relations officer. In 1959 he published his autobiography, It's Good to be Alive.

See also Baseball in the United States; Negro Leagues; Sports and African Americans.Sign up to receive email alerts from African American Studies Center

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