Italian-African-American baseball player Roy Campanella was born on November 19, 1921 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Widely considered to have been one of the greatest catchers in the history of the game, he led National League catchers in putouts six times, and clubbing 242 home runs in his 10-year Major League career. Roy played for the Brooklyn Dodgers during the 1940s and 1950s as one of the pioneers in breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball. Roy's father, John Campanella, was the son of Sicilian immigrants and his mother Ida was African American. Roy was barred from Major League Baseball until 1947, when black players were finally admitted to the Major Leagues. Roy, nicknamed Campy, began playing Negro League baseball for the Washington Elite Giants in 1937, after dropping out of school on his sixteenth birthday.
In 1942 and 1943, he played in the Mexican League with the Monterrey Sultans, and only in 1946 he moved into the Brooklyn Dodgers' minor league system. After the general manager of the Danville Dodgers of the Illinois-Indiana-Iowa League reported that the league was not ready for racial integration, the organization sent Campanella, along with pitcher Don Newcombe, to the Nashua Dodgers of the Class B New England League, where the Dodgers felt the climate would be more tolerant.
Jackie Robinson's first season in the Major Leagues came in 1947, and Campanella began his Major League career the following season, playing his first game on April 20, 1948. He went on to play for the Dodgers from 1948 through 1957 as their regular catcher.
Campanella played in the All-Star Game every year from 1949 through 1956 and he received the Most Valuable Player (MVP) award in the National League three times: in 1951, 1953, and 1955. In each of his MVP seasons, he batted over .300, hit over 30 home runs and had over 100 runs batted in. His 142 RBIs in 1953 broke the franchise record of 130, which had been held by Jack Fournier (1925) and Babe Herman (1930). That same year, Campanella hit 40 home runs in games in which he appeared as a catcher, a record that lasted until 1996, when it was broken by Todd Hundley.
Over his career, he threw out 57% of the base runners who tried to steal a base on him, the highest by any catcher in major league history.
In 1955, Campanella's final MVP season helped propel Brooklyn to its first-ever World Series championship. After the Dodgers dropped the first two games of that year's World Series to the Yankees, Campanella began Brooklyn's comeback by hitting a two-out, two-run home run in the first inning of Game 3. The Dodgers won that game, got another home run from Campanella in a Game 4 victory that tied the series, and then went on to claim the series in seven games.
Campanella lived in Glen Cove, New York, on the North Shore of Long Island, while operating a liquor store in Harlem between regular-season games and during the off-season. On January 28, 1958, after closing the store for the night, he began his drive to his home in Glen Cove. En route, traveling at about 30 mph (48 km/h), his car skidded into a telephone pole and overturned, breaking Campanella's neck. The accident left Campanella paralyzed from the shoulders down. He remained involved with the Dodgers: in 1978, he moved to California and took a job as assistant to the Dodgers' director of community relations, Campanella's former teammate and longtime friend Don Newcombe.
In 1969, Campanella was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, the first Italian-African-American player. On June 4, 1972, the Dodgers retired Campanella's uniform number 39 alongside Robinson's (42) and Sandy Koufax's (32).
In September 2006, the Los Angeles Dodgers announced the creation of the Roy Campanella Award, which is voted among the club's players and coaches and is given to the Dodger who best exemplifies "Campy's" spirit and leadership. Shortstop Rafael Furcal was named the inaugural winner of the award.
Campanella died of a heart attack on June 26, 1993, in his Woodland Hills, California home.