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.
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.