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Roy Campanella

An African American First

After a brief stint on the St. Paul, Minnesota Class AA team, Campanella was finally moved up to the Brooklyn Dodgers' major league team in 1948. This made him the first African American catcher in major league baseball, and the fourth African American player in the major leagues. Jackie Robinson had preceded Campanella the year before as the first African American major league baseball player. Robinson was then followed by two other African American players, Larry Doby and Dan Bankhead, before Campanella joined the major leagues.

Wearing the number 39 that he was to bear throughout his career, Campanella stepped up to the plate his first night playing as a Brooklyn Dodger, and hit a home run. Also that night, he hit a double and two singles, firmly establishing himself as a force to be reckoned with. Just as he had in the Negro Leagues, Campanella grit his teeth and played through numerous potentially serious injuries during his nine seasons with the Brooklyn Dodgers. For instance, in 1954, an injury rendered two fingers on his left hand immobile, and he played anyway. "I can grip a bat and I can grip a ball, and that's all that counts," said Campanella, according to Thomas.


1921 Born on November 19 in Homestead, Pennsylvania
1937 Drops out of school to join his first professional baseball team, the Bacharach Giants of Brooklyn, New York
1937 Joins the Baltimore Elite Giants, a team of the Negro National League
1946 Signs with the National League's Brooklyn Dodgers, beginning his career with the organization in the minor leagues
1948 Joins the Dodgers' major league team
1958 Paralyzed in an automobile accident, which ends his baseball playing career
1959 Publishes autobiography, It's Good to Be Alive
1978 Rejoins Los Angeles Dodgers payroll as a coach and Community Services worker
1993 Dies of heart attack near his Woodland Hills, California home

It's Good to Be Alive

Roy Campanella's autobiography, It's Good to Be Alive became the basis of a television movie in 1974. Directed by noted television actor Michael Landon (perhaps best known for his starring role on the Little House on the Prairie TV series), the 100-minute movie was broadcast for the first time on February 22, 1974. This first showing featured an introduction by Campanella and his family.

Paul Winfield plays the part of Campanella, and the movie opens with the 1958 auto accident that ended Campanella's career as a baseball player. Focusing more on the remarkable process by which Campanella created a new life for himself than on the baseball career that made him famous, the film chronicles the collapse of Campanella's marriage as a direct result of the accident, his physical rehabilitation, and his return to a productive life as a baseball coach and inspirational speaker. It's Good to Be Alive remains available on both videocassette and DVD from larger video outlets.

In 1951, Campanella was honored with Most Valuable Player status, a designation that was again bestowed upon him in 1953, when he had what some commentators thought of as his best year. In that year, Campanella had a .312 batting average, and broke three records for a catcher. These were: most putouts in a single season (807), most home runs for a catcher in a single season (41), and most runs batted in within a single season (142). Campanella was named Most Valuable Player a final time in 1955. By the end of his career, Campanella had played in five World Series, and had been named a National League All-Star a total of eight times.

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Famous Sports StarsBaseballRoy Campanella Biography - A Born Catcher, An African American First, Chronology, It's Good To Be Alive - SELECTED WRITINGS BY CAMPANELLA: