A Career Cut Short
Even at the height of his career, however, Campanella realized that he could not play baseball indefinitely, and so he opened a Harlem, New York liquor store with which he planned to support his family after his retirement from playing baseball. The store was a success, and was soon a prosperous business. The day he was forced to retire from baseball came sooner than Campanella planned, however. Early in the morning of January 28, 1958, as he was driving back to his Glen Cove, Long Island home from the liquor store, the car he was driving skidded on a slick road, crashed into a telephone pole, and overturned.
Campanella described the crash in a Los Angeles Times interview that was later quoted by the St. Petersburg Times. "It had snowed a little that night, and the roads were a little wet and icy. I was about five minutes from my house when I hit some ice driving around a curve. I hit my brakes and the car slid across the road, hit a pole and turned over. I tried to reach up to turn the ignition off because I thought the car would catch fire, but I couldn't move my arm."
Although he survived the crash, he suffered two fractured vertebrae. Five surgeons at Glen Cove Community Hospital worked four and a half hours to save his life. They succeeded in this, but his spine was permanently damaged; he remained paralyzed from the shoulders down. He would never be able to walk or swing a bat again.
At the time of his accident, Campanella held a .276 batting average in the major leagues. His major league career total was 1,161 hits in 1,215 games, including 627 runs and 242 home runs, and 856 runs batted in. Many later speculated that, had it not been for the racism that had kept Campanella out of the major leagues until he was 26 years old, and for the auto accident that ended his career prematurely at the age of 36, those numbers would have been much higher.