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Campanella is lasting symbol of the "Boys of Summer"

Wednesday, November 19, 2003
Largest MLB crowd honored Campanella
By Nick Acocella
Special to

Signature Game
May 7, 1959 - Arguably the most important game associated with Roy Campanella was one in which he didn't even play. It was an exhibition game in Los Angeles, where Campanella never even suited up for the California version of the Dodgers.

A little more than 15 months after he was paralyzed in a car accident, the Dodgers gave Campy a "night" at the Los Angeles Coliseum. Never did so many come to honor one man in baseball. A paying crowd of 93,103, largest in the history of Major League Baseball, jammed the stadium. Police estimated at least 15,000 more fans were turned away.

There was a heart-felt standing ovation for Campanella when, in a special pregame ceremony, he was wheeled out to second base by his long-time teammate, shortstop Pee Wee Reese. The lights in the Coliseum were turned off, and the fans lit matches to greet him.

"This is something I'll never forget," Campy said over the public-address system. "I thank God I'm here living to be able to see it. It's a wonderful thing."

It's estimated that Campanella, who was hit hard financially by the huge medical bills, received between $50,000 and $75,000 to aid in his rehabilitation.

Odds 'n' Ends

  • While playing for the Negro National League's Elite Giants, he once caught four games in a day.

  • In 1942, Campanella was promised a tryout with the Pittsburgh Pirates, but the event never happened.

  • The first Dodgers scout to notice him was Clyde Sukeforth, who went to New Jersey for an Elite Giants' game against the Newark Eagles to take a look at Don Newcombe. He came back with a recommendation to sign both members of the battery.

  • When first summoned to Branch Rickey's office, Campanella thought the Brooklyn executive wanted him to sign with a new all-black team called the Brown Dodgers.

  • Playing for Nashua (N.H.) in 1946, Campanella became the first black ever to manage a team in organized baseball. Ejected from a game, pilot Walter Alston turned the team over to Campy. Nashua won, 7-5.

  • Campanella was sent to St. Paul in 1948 not because he needed more seasoning but because Branch Rickey wanted him to integrate the American Association. The usually stingy Rickey gave him an extra $1,500 for the service.

  • As a Dodgers rookie in 1948, Campanella batted .258 with nine homers in 83 games.

  • In January 1951, Campanella feared he would lose his eyesight when a gas oven he was lighting exploded in his face.

  • The first time Campy was thrown out of a game, for protesting a play at the plate in a 1951 pennant-stretch game, umpire Frank Dascoli cleared the bench and, afterwards, several Brooklyn players beat on the door of the umpires' room. Campanella and Jackie Robinson were each fined $100.

  • Dodgers pitcher Carl Erskine maintains that had Campanella, who had no peer in blocking balls in the dirt, been in the third game of the 1951 playoffs against the Giants, manager Charlie Dressen would have put him into the game instead of Ralph Branca.

  • After the 1952 season, Walter O'Malley offered Campanella a job as a coach when his playing days were over.

  • In 1953, Campanella scored 103 runs, the only time he had more than 90 in his career.

  • Campy's 41 homers that season were the third most in the National League, behind Ed Mathews' 47 and Duke Snider's 42.

  • In 32 World Series games, Campanella hit .237 with four homers and 12 RBI in 114 at-bats.

  • Often injured, Campanella only played in more than 130 games in two of his 10 seasons.

  • His 1959 autobiography, "It's Good To Be Alive" was made into a movie starring Paul Winfield in 1974.

  • Campanella helped support Bobby Mitchell when the future NFL halfback was in high school.

  • Never a firebrand like Robinson over racial progress, Campanella and his teammate often disagreed about the best way to achieve equality.

  • When the Chase Hotel in St. Louis, the last holdout on the major league circuit, decided to allow black players to stay at its facility provided they did not eat in the restaurant or sit in the lobby, Campanella declined the half-gesture.

  • In 1996, the Mets' Todd Hundley broke Campanella's record for most homers by a catcher when he hit 41.

  • Ty Cobb once said Campanella would be remembered longer than any other catcher. That prediction came true, perhaps more for Campy's courage in the face of adversity than for his on-field performance.

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