Roy Campanella wasn’t the first African American to play Major League Baseball—that honor, of course, went to Jackie Robinson. But catcher Campanella was hot on Robinson’s heels, blazing a trail on and off the diamond. On the 20th anniversary of Campanella’s death, we look at a few of his amazing accomplishments.
First Integrated Pro-Baseball Team: After some years in the Negro leagues and the Mexican League, Campanella—along with Jackie Robinson—moved to the minors, as the Brooklyn Dodgers and Major League Baseball prepared for integration. The Dodgers sent Robinson to Quebec to play with the AAA Montreal Royals. Meanwhile, a search for the best minor league team for Campanella turned up the Nashua Dodgers. He signed with them in 1946, making the New Hampshire team the first integrated professional baseball team in the United States in the 20th century. Campanella also became the first Black player in the New England League.
First African American to Manage White Players: During Campanella’s first season with Nashua, manager Walter Alston was ejected from a game. Campanella took over his managerial duties, making him the first Black man to manage White players in a professional baseball game.
One of the First Black All-Stars: Campanella joined Robinson on the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1948, a year after Robinson’s MLB debut. The following year, Campanella was selected for the All-Star team, making him—along with Robinson, Don Newcombe, and Larry Doby—one of the first four African-American All-Stars. By the end of his 10 years in the majors, Campanella would be chosen for the All-Star team eight times—more than Doby, Newcombe, or Robinson.
Three-Time National League MVP: Campanella was the National League’s Most Valuable Player three times—in 1951, 1953 and 1955—tying him with NL players Stan Musial, Mike Schmidt, and Albert Pujols, and Jimmie Foxx, Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle, and Alex Rodriguez of the American League. Only Barry Bonds has received more MVP awards.
World Series-Winning Brooklyn Dodger: In 1955, Campanella helped drive the Dodgers to their first ever World Series win. His two-run homer early in Game Three was the beginning of the Dodgers’ comeback after losing the first two games. Another home run from Campanella in Game Four took the Dodgers further toward clinching the title.
Sadly, Campanella didn’t get a change to blaze any more trails on the baseball diamond—in 1958, he was paralyzed in an automobile accident. Though he eventually regained some motion, he would never play baseball again. But somehow he stayed positive and thankful for what he had, as evidenced by the title of his 1959 autobiography and a subsequent made-for-TV movie: “It’s Good to Be Alive.”
And the lifelong lover of the game of baseball didn’t stay out of the sport—he became a scout for the Dodgers (by then, based in Los Angeles) and later worked as assistant to the Dodgers’ director of community relations. In 1969, Campanella became a Hall of Famer—he wasn’t the first Black person to receive that honor, but a very impressive second.