Over the course of February, which is Black History Month, MLB Network and MLB.com are looking back at some of the most prominent African-American players in MLB history. Today, we look back on the career of Hall of Famer Roy Campanella.Campanella's big league career was cut short both at the
Over the course of February, which is Black History Month, MLB Network and MLB.com are looking back at some of the most prominent African-American players in MLB history. Today, we look back on the career of Hall of Famer Roy Campanella.
Campanella's big league career was cut short both at the beginning, by the color of his skin, and at the end, by a tragic car accident. But in the intervening years, Campanella earned a reputation as one of baseball's greatest catchers, playing 10 seasons with for the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1948-57.
Campanella began playing professionally in 1937 as a teenager with the Washington Elite Giants of the Negro National League. The team moved to Baltimore in '38, and Campanella developed into one of the Elite Giants' star players. Campanella also spent time in the Mexican League with the Monterrey Sultans before joining the Dodgers' Minor League system in '46, one year before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier.
Campanella followed Robinson to the big leagues, making his debut on April 20, 1948, in a game against the New York Giants. In his first full season in '49, Campanella established himself as a top backstop, batting .287 with 22 home runs and 82 RBIs. That year, he was one of the first four black players to make the All-Star Game, alongside Dodgers teammates Robinson and Don Newcombe and the Indians' Larry Doby. It marked the beginning of eight consecutive appearances for Campanella.
In 1951, Campanella won his first of three National League Most Valuable Player Awards; he enjoyed a career year with a .325 average, 33 home runs and 108 RBIs, then topped those personal bests two years later with another NL MVP Award-winning campaign in '53. Campanella hit .312/.395/.611 that season, setting career-high marks for runs (103), home runs (41) and RBIs (142), the latter of which remains the second most in Dodgers history (behind Tommy Davis' 153 in '62).
In 1955, Campanella earned a third NL MVP Award -- he hit .318 with 32 home runs and 107 RBIs -- and helped the Dodgers win the franchise's first World Series title. During Campanella's Dodgers tenure, the club never had a losing season and reached the World Series five times.
Campanella was also behind the plate for three no-hitters -- two by Carl Erskine on June 19, 1952, and May 12, 1956, and another by Sal Maglie on Sept. 25, 1956.
Campanella's career came to an unfortunate end after the 1957 season, the Dodgers' last in Brooklyn, by the car accident that left him paralyzed from the neck down. He finished with a .276 career average, 242 home runs and 856 RBIs through 1,215 games, all with Brooklyn.
Campanella remained involved in the organization after his playing career as a scout and served in the Dodgers' community relations department until his death on June 23, 1993, at age 71. In '69, he became the second black player inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame after Robinson, and his No. 39 was one of the first three uniform numbers retired by the organization in '72 alongside Robinson's No. 42 and Sandy Koufax's 32.
Chad Thornburg is a reporter for MLB.com based in Los Angeles.