A New Life
After a ten-month hospitalization, Campanella underwent rehabilitation at New York University-Bellevue Medical Center's Rusk Institute—a process as grueling as any training in his baseball career. At the end of it, he was able to move his arms, and regained partial use of his hands.
The worst was not yet over. Campanella's wife Ruthie, unable to cope with the loss of physical intimacy imposed by the accident, left him. Campanella was also forced to sell his house to cover debts incurred as a result of the accident. Only three months after Campanella's accident, his team moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles, California, to become the Los Angeles Dodgers. Campanella said many years later that his one regret in life was that he wasn't able to go with the Dodgers to their new home.
But Campanella persevered, never flagging in his optimism. He rebuilt his life, eventually marrying his nurse, and building up his liquor store business and his career as a television and radio personality. In the process of putting his life back together, Campanella became a tremendous source of inspiration to handicapped and other people around the country. As Thomas of the New York Times wrote, "his gritty determination to make a life for himself in a wheelchair won him even more fame and admiration than he had enjoyed as a baseball star."
Campanella's many fans showed their appreciation of him on May 8, 1959 at an exhibition game at the Los Angeles Coliseum between the Dodgers and the Yankees dedicated to the former star. Over 93,000 spectators showed up, a baseball attendance record that remained unbroken at the time of Campanella's death, more than 30 years later. At one point during the proceedings, Campanella was wheeled to home plate, the stadium's lights were dimmed, and the fans lit matches in Campanella's honor. More importantly to the star who had fallen on hard times, he netted $75,000 from that night's proceeds.
Campanella stayed active in baseball by coaching teenagers; in 1967, he took a job coaching boys from housing projects in New York City. Many of those he coached went on to play for college and professional teams. In 1969, Campanella, again following in Jackie Robinson's footsteps, became the second African American to be inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame. In a speech on the occasion, he thanked Branch Rickey for starting his major league career. The Chicago Sun Times quoted Campanella, "Mr. Rickey is the one I owe everything to. This election completes my baseball career, and there's nothing more I can ask in life."
But Campanella's career in baseball was not over. In 1978, Campanella went back on the Dodgers payroll, selling his liquor store and moving to Woodland Hills, California to rejoin his old team. Among his duties at his new job was coaching Dodgers catchers at spring training in Vero Beach, Florida, and working for the organization's Community Services department.
He remained in the public eye with these activities, and remained beloved of Dodgers fans and players who recognized his positive outlook and ongoing contributions to the sport of baseball. Most of all, he was seen to epitomize the spirit of fun that he felt was essential to playing an organized sport. "It's a man's game," said Campanella, according to the St. Petersburg Times, "but you have to have a lot of little boy in you to play it."