MLB TIME CAPSULE 1950’s: Roy Campanella Night

It now appears that despite the current COVID-19 pandemic, there will still be a 2020 Major League Baseball season. The number of games that will be played and other details will be announced before July 1, the expected starting date.  My weekly blog posts for the season will be a baseball time capsule from the 1950s.  During that decade, the pace of integration in the Major Leagues slowly, but steadily went forward.  As a consequence, the talent pool for the Negro Leagues decreased setting it on a journey towards extinction by the early 1960s.  All of this with the early Civil Rights movement as a back drop.

This week’s post is about Roy Campanella.

Roy Campanella

91,103 fans were at Los Angeles’ Memorial Coliseum on May 7, 1959 for Roy Campanella Night, a special occasion which included a benefit  exhibition game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the New York Yankees.  On that evening, the Dodgers paid tribute to the 8-time All-Star, former Dodger catcher who did not have an opportunity to play for the team after it moved to Los Angeles from Brooklyn.  Less than two months before the Dodgers would start 1958 spring training for the team’s first season in Los Angeles, he had a car accident that left him permanently paralyzed from the neck down. 

LA Coliseum May 7, 1959

Roy Campanella’s journey through professional baseball began in 1937 when at 15 years old he played for the Washington Elites of the Negro National League. He developed his skills as a backstop under the tutelage of his manager Raleigh “Biz” Mackey, considered one of the best catchers of that era despite not being allowed to play in the Major Leagues because of his skin color.

After nine years in the Negro Leagues, Campanella signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1946 and became teammates with Jackie Robinson in 1948.   Although Robinson had erased the “invisible color line” in 1947, African Americans and dark-skinned Latino ballplayers would be faced with racial discrimination and prejudice in Major League baseball throughout the 1950s.

Campanella became one of the anchors for Brooklyn Dodgers teams that won five National League pennants (1949, 1952 – 1953, 1955 – 1956) and one World Series championship (1955).  Named National League Most Valuable Player (MVP) three times (1951, 1953, & 1955), he hit a career 242 home runs with 856 RBIs.

On that special night in 1959, former Dodgers’ teammate Pee Wee Reese pushed a wheelchair bound Campanella out to the infield of the Coliseum in front of a cheering crowd that gave a three minute standing ovation.  Also, Biz Mackey received a roaring ovation when introduced that night as Campy’s catching mentor. Mackey did not live to see the crowning acknowledgement of his baseball career that came in 2006 with his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The Yankees, who were the 1958 World Series champions, won the game 6 – 2.  But it did not turn out to be an omen about the season for the teams.  For the first time since 1954, the Yankees did not win the American League pennant in 1959.  The Dodgers won the National League pennant that year and defeated the Chicago White Sox 4 games to 2 in the World Series.  It would be the last hurrah for Campy’s former long- time Brooklyn Dodgers teammates (“The Boys of Summer”) Gil Hodges, Duke Snider, Carl Erskine, and Carl Furillo.

As his health permitted, Roy Campanella continued to be a part of the Dodgers’ family (coaching catchers during Spring Training, Community Relations Department, etc.) until his June 23, 1993 death.  

All pictures via Google Images

For my daily historical notices go to Kevin L. Mitchell@Lasttraintocoop

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