Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Philadelphia, Philadelphia County
Brooklyn Dodgers' catcher and author Roy Campanella was born in Philadelphia.
Awards: Baseball Hall of Fame
Originally from Philadelphia, Roy Campanella was the first black catcher to play major league baseball. His statistics show that he was an exceptional player who contributed much to the game. His autobiography, It’s Good to Be Alive (1959), distills the knowledge he gained from the automobile accident that ended his career and confined him to a wheelchair. He died in retirement in California in 1993.
Roy Campanella was born on November 11, 1921, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Nicknamed “Campy,” Campanella played baseball all of his life. He first played for the Bacharach Giants, a local professional team. In 1937, he was selected to play for the Baltimore Elite Giants of the NNL (Negro National League) at the age of 15. By 1939, Campanella was Baltimore’s lead catcher and, by the end of the season, led them to the playoffs. He was voted MVP (Most Valuable Player) of the East-West-All-Star game two years later in 1941. Campanella left the NNL and moved to the Mexican League two years later after a fight with Baltimore’s owner, Tom Wilson.
Campanella returned to the NNL in 1944. In 1945, he led the league in RBIs (Runs Batted In) and signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers’ class-B farm team. After leading the league in putouts, assists, and errors, Campanella won the MVP award and moved up to Montreal, with the Dodgers’ International Team in 1947. After winning the MVP title again in 1948, it was not long before he signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers and became the first black catcher to play in the major leagues.
Campanella played for the Dodgers for the next ten years and was acclaimed as one of the best catchers to ever play the game. By 1956, he won five National League pennants, three MVP awards, and one World Series Championship. During his ten-year career, he hit 242 home runs.
Tragedy struck in 1958 when a car accident left Campanella a quadriplegic. Sadly, his career was over. Campanella wrote his own autobiography, It’s Good to Be Alive (1959), in which he describes the drastic changes his accident imposed on his life. In his memoir, he recollects all the glorious moments he experienced playing the game of baseball and defines the noteworthy qualities a player should possess to play. In 1969, Campanella was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
Arguably one of the greatest catchers to ever play the game of baseball, there have been dozens of books and documentaries done about Campanella and the Brooklyn Dodgers of that era. While playing baseball, Campanella said, “You have to have a lot of little boy in you to play baseball.” He revealed his passion for the game by saying, “I never want to quit playing baseball. They’ll have to cut this uniform off of me to get me out of it.” On June 26, 1993, Campanella died in Woodland Hills, CA, at the age of 71.
Campanella, Roy. It’s Good to Be Alive. Boston: Little, Brown, 1959.
“Roy Campanella.” The Official Site of the Baseball Hall of Fame. 2001. April 25, 2004