Cover image for Campy : the two lives of Roy Campanella
Campy : the two lives of Roy Campanella
1st Simon & Schuster hardcover ed.
Publication Information:
New York : Simon & Schuster, 2011.
Physical Description:
x, 516 p., [16] p. of plates : ill. ; 25 cm.
Nicetown boy -- The big league of colored baseball -- Mackey's protégé -- Elite giant -- A rising star -- War and a tryout -- Mexico -- Mr. Rickey -- Nashua -- Brooklyn -- Out of the shadows -- The split -- A year to remember -- Aches, pains, and a comeback -- It hurts up here -- Redemption -- The luckiest man in the world -- Dosoris Lane -- A different kind of life -- Boy of summer -- Roy Campanella batting record.
Personal Subject:
Traces the life and career of the gifted athlete, tracing his achievements playing with the Negro Leagues and Brooklyn Dodgers before the accident that rendered him a quadriplegic and pioneer in rehabilitative physical therapy.


Material Type
Call Number
Item Available
Book 921 CAMPANELLA 1 1

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Neil Lanctot's biography of Hall of Fame catcher Roy Campanella--filled with surprises--is the first life of the Dodger great in decades and the most authoritative ever published.

Born to a father of Italian descent and an African- American mother, Campanella wanted to be a ballplayer from childhood but was barred by color from the major leagues. He dropped out of school to play professional ball with the Negro Leagues' Washington (later Baltimore) Elite Giants, where he honed his skills under Hall of Fame catcher Biz Mackey. Campy played eight years in the Negro Leagues until the major leagues integrated. Ironically, he and not Jackie Robinson might have been the player to integrate baseball, as Lanctot reveals. An early recruit to Branch Rickey's "Great Experiment" with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Campy became the first African-American catcher in the twentieth century in the major leagues. As Lanctot discloses, Campanella and Robinson, pioneers of integration, had a contentious relationship, largely as a result of a dispute over postseason barnstorming.

Campanella was a mainstay of the great Dodger teams that consistently contended for pennants in the late 1940s and 1950s. He was a three-time MVP, an outstanding defensive catcher, and a powerful offensive threat. But on a rainy January night in 1958, all that changed. On his way home from his liquor store in Harlem, Campy lost control of his car, hit a utility pole, and was paralyzed below the neck. Lanctot reveals how Campanella's complicated personal life (he would marry three times) played a role in the accident. Campanella would now become another sort of pioneer, learning new techniques of physical therapy under the celebrated Dr. Howard Rusk at his Institute of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. As he gradually recovered some limited motion, Campanella inspired other athletes and physically handicapped people everywhere.

Based on interviews with dozens of people who knew Roy Campanella and diligent research into contemporary sources, Campy offers a three-dimensional portrait of this gifted athlete and remarkable man whose second life after baseball would prove as illustrious and courageous as his first.

Reviews 6

Publisher's Weekly Review

Considered by many to be one of the greatest catchers in baseball history, Roy "Campy" Campanella is as interesting for what he did off the field as for his accomplishments within the baselines. And Lanctot, who has written extensively on the Negro Leagues, does justice to the tale. Born in 1921 in Philadelphia to a Sicilian father and African-American mother, Campanella saw his love for baseball pay off at an early age when he joined a club in the Negro Leagues at age 15. His early baseball years, which also took him to Mexico and Cuba, not only gave him exposure to the ugly racism of the time but also the experience that he needed for the Brooklyn Dodgers to sign him in 1946. From there, Campanella won the MVP award three times and led the Dodgers to an emotional World Series win in 1945 after so many previous failures against the Yankees. Lanctot truly captures the reader by delving well past the statistics, analyzing the rocky relationship with teammate Jackie Robinson and the horrific car accident in 1958 that left him paralyzed. Lanctot paints Campanella as an extremely likable person, yet doesn't hold back when speaking about subjects like Campanella's failed marriages and infidelity. Impeccably researched, it's a defining book on "the only person in baseball history about whom absolutely no one had a bad thing to say." (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Booklist Review

Dodger catching great Roy Campanella was born to an Italian American father and an African American mother in Philadelphia in 1921. The round, affable boy fell in love with baseball and was playing in the Negro Leagues at 15. Lanctot spins out Campy's story in exhaustive (occasionally exhausting) detail. Nearly every game he played is covered, and his tangled relationship with Jackie Robinson friends, enemies, wary supporters is treated with nuance. Campy's extraordinary abilities as a catcher are not only described but illustrated with anecdotes from specific games and seasons. Although Lanctot writes with a novelist's energy, sometimes the narrative veers into sentimentality, and he tends to soften such negatives as Campy's relations with his wives and neglect of some of his children. On the other hand, the man's courage in living fully a wheelchair-bound life after the car crash that ended his career makes a compelling tale (Campy's experience led to much-improved treatment for quadriplegics). Despite the extensive detail, Campy remains a bit elusive, beyond the captivating smile, the chirpy voice, and the great baseball instincts.--DeCandido, GraceAnne A. Copyright 2010 Booklist

New York Review of Books Review

IN the summer of 1937, with the Dodgers holding down their familiar spot near the bottom of the National League, the cartoonist Willard Mullin drew the unforgettable image of the "Brooklyn Bum" - a potbellied, cigar-chomping hobo who combined the cheerful ineptitude of the players and the goofy optimism of their fans. Named for the singular "dodging" skills of pedestrians in a borough crammed with trolley lines, the Dodgers hadn't captured a pennant since 1920, and had never won a World Series. "Brooklyn?" roared Bill Terry, manager of the hated New York Giants. "Is Brooklyn still in the league?" Dodger fans were largely immune to this abuse. Their addiction had taught them patience and humility - like belonging to a religion whose one flaw was an unreachable promised land. From Bay Ridge to Brownsville, from Flatbush to Coney Island, it was always "Wait till next year." Their shrine was Ebbets Field, a crumbling edifice known for its obstructed views and peculiar dimensions. Stretching across right field, a mere 297 feet to the foul pole, was a hand-operated scoreboard with a wire screen above and a wall of advertisements below, the oddest one daring the batter to "Hit Sign, Win Suit" from Abe Stark's haberdashery. Bleacher cheers were led by the bell-clanging Hilda Chester, whose signature taunt - "Eacha heart out, ya bum" - easily reached both dugouts. Baseball's premier organist, Gladys Gooding, performed between innings, while the oddball "Dodgers Symphony" entertained in the aisles. Players were introduced by the grammatically challenged Tex Rickards, who reminded customers, "Don't throw nuthin' from the stands!" Once, spotting some coats hanging over the bleacher wall, Rickards announced, "Will the fans along the railing in left field please remove their clothes." The Dodgers did win the pennant in 1941. But normal life returned a week later when Mickey Owen, their all-star catcher, muffed a third strike with two outs in the ninth inning of Game 4 against the Yankees, costing Brooklyn the victory and, many believed, the team's first World Series. It was yet another of those special Dodger moments: something to pass down to innocent children but, ultimately, to forgive. Why blame the catcher when a higher power was at work? (Sixty-four years later, when Owen took his final third strike, the obituary in The New York Times carried the headline "Mickey Owen Dies at 89; Allowed Fateful Passed Ball.") Hopes rose again in 1942 with the news that Branch Rickey, the former general manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, had taken a similar post with the Dodgers. Rickey's teams had won four World Series, the last one coming against the Yankees that same year. He had left the Cardinals in a dispute over money; what awaited him in Brooklyn seemed far less appealing. But Rickey had a plan to revolutionize the game, and St. Louis, a segregated city, offered no hope for its success. Much has been written about his role in the integration of major league baseball, and Jimmy Breslin's slim biography, "Branch Rickey," breaks no new factual ground. What Breslin has done, with his usual gritty perception, is revive a story of enormous consequence. Branch Rickey (1881-1965), a white man, is rarely mentioned when the great civil rights leaders are discussed. His politics were small-town Republican, his judgments often puritanical. He had numerous reasons for integrating baseball, Breslin reminds us, not all of them noble. But without his vision and persistence, civil rights may have taken an even slower, rougher path. According to Rickey, his first whiff of prejudice came in 1904, during his time as a student-coach at Ohio Wesleyan University, when a black ballplayer was denied access to a hotel. Enraged, Rickey took the player to his room, ordered up a cot and made it clear that the team stayed together or left together. (They stayed.) Rickey hoped to play major league baseball. A mediocre prospect, he spent time with the St. Louis Browns and the New York Highlanders (renamed the Yankees in 1913) before injuries ended his career. Obtaining a law degree, he returned to baseball as manager of the Browns before switching leagues to run the crosstown Cardinals in 1917. Above all, Breslin insists, Rickey was a businessman, and his genius lay in developing the best talent for the least money. He invented the farm system, which "gathered players of promise and grew them, like crops, on minor league teams. . . . The practice was modeled somewhat after the Southern system of slavery." Farm clubs not only helped the Cardinals, they also made Rickey a rich man. With so much talent on hand, he sold players to other organizations at a personal commission of 10 percent. And his contract talks - a lawyer jousting with the barely educated - were painfully one-sided. Dizzy Dean, the league's best pitcher, recalled going to see Rickey about a small loan. "He didn't give me any money," Dean confessed. "All I got was a lecture on sex." In Brooklyn, Rickey shifted gears. The team needed better players, which its farm system was unable to provide. So he looked elsewhere, to the Negro leagues, where talent abounded. His first task was to find the right man to break the color line. "I don't know who he is, or where he is," Rickey told Red Barber, the Dodgers' radio announcer, "but he is coming." The story is familiar. Breslin, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, is a master of the spare narrative. His strength lies in the telling, not in the research. Until Rickey came to Brooklyn, he writes, "baseball was a sport for hillbillies with great eyesight." While Jackie Robinson wasn't the best player in the Negro leagues, his background clearly set him apart. A four-sport athlete at U.C.L.A., he was well educated, soon to be married and quite comfortable playing on integrated teams. His main problem was his temper. As an Army lieutenant during World War II, he'd been accused of threatening a white driver who used a racial epithet while demanding he move to the back of a bus. At their legendary meeting in Brooklyn in 1945, Rickey, knowing full well what lay ahead for the first black major leaguer, peppered Robinson with racial slurs. "Mr. Rickey, do you want a ballplayer who is afraid to fight back?" Robinson asked. No, came the reply. "I want a ballplayer with guts enough not to fight back." Robinson relented; Rickey found his pioneer. Dodger fortunes changed almost overnight. Brooklyn, a borough of immigrant enclaves, welcomed Robinson as one of its own. And he responded to racial taunts on the road with truly spectacular play, winning rookie of the year honors in 1947. The Dodgers would soon come to dominate the National League, though Rickey would not be there to share the glory. Forced out in 1950 in another dispute over money, he moved on to the lowly Pittsburgh Pirates, creating the nucleus of yet another championship team. But his heart remained in Brooklyn, Breslin says, and his best work did, too. By the time the Dodgers won their first World Series, in 1955, there were four black players in the starting lineup - five when Don Newcombe took the mound. For Dodger fans, the long wait was over. "Next year" had finally arrived. HAD Rickey not chosen Jackie Robinson, he might have turned to Roy Campanella, the rifle-armed, power-hitting Negro league catcher who joined the Dodgers a year later, in 1948. Campanella was an extraordinary talent; he would win the Most Valuable Player award three times, and be voted into the Hall of Fame. What kept him from going first, Neil Lanctot says in "Campy: The Two Lives of Roy Campanella," a faithful if overstuffed biography, were the deficiencies common to most players of his era, black and white alike. Campy was a high school dropout. He loved the temptations of the road, despite having a wife and children at home. And there was something else: Campy, born to an African-American mother and an Italian-American father, may have been too fair-skinned for Rickey, who wanted no confusion surrounding the black man who would break the color line. Campanella led two distinct lives, as the book's subtitle suggests. The first one, as a baseball star, ended when he apparently fell asleep at the wheel of his car in 1958. The second one, as a quadriplegic, ended with his death in 1993 at the age of 71. Lanctot, a baseball historian, says that what these lives had in common was an absence of bravado and complaint. Campy was no crusader. He led quietly, by example, and he rarely rocked the boat. The Dodgers of the 1950s were a team of stars: Robinson and Campanella, Duke Snider and Carl Furillo, Gil Hodges and Pee Wee Reese. The clubhouse was cohesive, but the players socialized by race. Robinson and Campy became fast friends, rooming on the road, taking jobs together in the off-season and buying their first homes in the same neighborhood in Queens. Perhaps the best parts of "Campy", chart the breaking of their bond. Campanella's son described his father as "the quintessential jock" who lived to play the game. Robinson, for his part, saw baseball as a means to larger ends. He pushed his reluctant black teammates to speak out against racism and to protest their exclusion from restaurants and hotels. Campy refused. "I'm a colored man," he told a reporter. "A few years ago there were many more things I couldn't do than I can today. I'm willing to wait." When Robinson retired after the 1956 season, the two men were barely speaking. Even Campanella's car accident failed to end the feud. In 1963, Robinson invited black players to share their experiences for a book he was writing on civil rights and baseball. To his delight, Campy spoke passionately about what he had gone through and what needed to be done. "I am a Negro and I am part of this," he said. "I feel it as deep as anyone, and so do my children." The two reconciled - one now in a wheelchair, the other ravaged by diabetes and heart disease. At Robinson's funeral in 1972, Campy sat near the coffin, humming softly. He was at peace. The bond had been restored. Branch Rickey, the Dodgers' general manager, in 1943. Among the players he signed were Jackie Robinson, left, and Roy Campanella. Had Rickey not chosen Jackie Robinson to be the first black player, he might have picked Campanella. David Oshinsky, a frequent contributor to the Book Review, teaches history at the University of Texas and New York University.

Choice Review

Lanctot (freelance writer) provides a substantive though excessively long biography of the Brooklyn Dodgers great, whose life story has not previously received the attention it deserves. Campanella, who began playing professionally in the Negro Leagues when he was 15, was one of the first blacks to integrate Major League Baseball. He won three National League "most valuable player" awards before a car accident left him paralyzed below the neck at age 36. Also author of the impressive Negro League Baseball: The Rise and Ruin of a Black Institution (CH, Dec'04, 42-1961), Lanctot was well qualified to write a biography of Campanella. His research provides the book's strength, but the book lacks a bibliography--a fatal flaw in terms of academic use. It is also 100 pages too long and suffers from too much repetition and too many sports cliches. And the subtitle is unnecessarily vague. But the book does succeed in providing a revealing, honest portrayal of the talented but all-too-human Campanella and, in particular, his complicated, often contentious relationship with his more famous black teammate, Jackie Robinson. Summing Up: Recommended. General readers only. C. J. Lamb College of Charleston

Kirkus Review

The author ofNegro League Baseball(2004) returns with a thorough, generous biography of a Negro League star, catcher Roy "Campy" Campanella (19211993), who joined the Dodgers shortly after Jackie Robinson.For many pages, Lanctot offers few negative words about Campanella. The son of a blue-collar white man and an African-American woman, he grew up when Jim Crow still reigned in the South and conditions in the North were only marginally better. As a child, he quickly fell in love with baseball, a sport his athletic gifts fitted perfectly. He had feline reactions and could run, throw, hit for power and average and handle pitchers well. But as the author ably illustrates, stardom came after long tuition. Although his gifts were so prodigious that he was playing professionally at age 15, he worked ferociously hard and played whenever and wherever he could. On the road in the Negro League (and even later), he suffered enormous indignitiesdenied service in restaurants, hotels and other businessesbut somehow retained an ebullience that Lanctot highlights throughout. His teammates, black and white, liked and admired himthough the author focuses on Campy's deteriorating relationship with Jackie Robinson, a tension Lanctot attributes to differences in education (Robinson attended college) and in impatience with the pace of the civil-rights movement (Campy took a long time to become more assertive politically). Competition was also a major factor, since both men enjoyed celebrity and adulation. Lanctot, pricking any balloons of legend floating over Campy, continually mentions cases of inconsistency between the legends and the historical record. Painful reading, indeed, are the many pages Lanctot devotes to Campy's car accident (it left him a quadriplegic) and the arduous, stressful, depressing aftermath.A bit tendentious early on, but a sharper critical lens makes the final sections memorable and wrenching.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Library Journal Review

The first clue that this is not the usual account of a baseball great is the cover photo depicting a forlorn if not troubled soul. Indeed, as the subtitle makes plain, there were two Roy Campanellas: the public one, best known for his multiple MVP career with the Brooklyn Dodgers, after years in segregated baseball, whose life was marked by a courageous battle after a paralyzing 1958 car accident, and the private one who confronted teammate Jackie Robinson and lived a long life after the car crash, an event that Lanctot (Negro League Baseball) describes from a fresh perspective. Richly documented and meticulously compiled, this definitive biography bares the soul of a boy of summer who symbolizes a distant period but who lived through an epochal transformation of the game and the country. Compelling reading for all baseball and biography fans.-G.R. (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



PROLOGUE FOR SOME CITIES , a World Series game is an all too rare event to be savored and debated for years afterward. But for a New Yorker in 1958, the Fall Classic was a predictable part of the October calendar, as humdrum as a Columbus Day sale at Macy's or candy apples at a neighborhood Halloween party. The great catcher Roy Campanella was a veteran of the October baseball wars. Between 1949 and 1956, his Brooklyn Dodgers had taken on the New York Yankees five times, coming up empty all but once. On Saturday, October 4, Campy was returning to Yankee Stadium for yet another Series game, but everything had changed since the last time he'd set foot in the House That Ruth Built. The Dodgers no longer played in their cozy ballpark in Flatbush but in a monstrosity known as the Coliseum a continent away. And Campy no longer played baseball at all because a January automobile accident had left him a quadriplegic. For the past five months, he had doggedly worked with the staff and physicians at the Institute of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation on Thirty-fourth Street in Manhattan to learn how to function in a wheelchair. He had now sufficiently progressed to leave the hospital on weekends. His doctors had encouraged him to accept Yankee co-owner Del Webb's invitation to attend Saturday's game at the Stadium, although Campy was initially not so sure. He had not appeared in public since his accident, nor had he sat on anything except a wheelchair. Nevertheless, he set aside any lingering anxiety to make the early-afternoon car ride to the Bronx, where box seats behind the Yankee dugout had already been set aside for Roy, his wife, two of his children, and a male attendant. When the family station wagon arrived at Yankee Stadium, Campy could not help but think of the times he had suited up in the locker room in the past. He had never liked hitting at the Stadium, but he had enjoyed his fair share of glory there, whacking a key single in the deciding game of the Negro National League championship game as a teenager in 1939 and a more crucial double in game seven of the World Series in 1955, the year the Dodgers finally bested the Yanks. Today, he would just be another fan. Campy soon discovered his wheelchair was too wide for the Stadium's narrow aisles. He had no choice but to be bodily carried by his attendant, two firemen, and a policeman. "I felt like some sad freak," he later recalled. "It was the most embarrassing thing that ever happened to me. I felt ashamed." But the fans whose glances he so desperately wanted to avoid soon began to shout out encouragement. "Hi, Slugger!" one greeted him. "Attaboy, Campy!" yelled another. "Stay in there, Campy, you got it licked." Before long, virtually every one of the 71,566 present realized that the fellow with the neck brace and "tan Bebop cap" being carried to his seat was three-time MVP Roy Campanella. "By some sort of mental telepathy thousands in the great three-tiered horse-shoe were on their feet and when the applause moved, like wind through wheat from row to row, I doubt if there were many there who didn't know what had happened," wrote Bill Corum of the Journal-American . "It was a sad thing. Yet it was a great thing too, in the meaning of humanity. No word was spoke that anybody will know. Yet it had the same effect as that moment when a dying Lou Gehrig stood on this same Yankee diamond and said … 'I'm the luckiest man in the world.'" Down on the field, the top half of the second inning took a backseat to the heartfelt hoopla in the stands. With the count 1-1 on Milwaukee's Frank Torre, Yankee pitcher Don Larsen stepped off the mound as the players in both dugouts craned their necks to see what was causing the commotion and then began to join in the ovation themselves. Upon spotting Campy only a few yards away, Yankee catcher Yogi Berra flipped his mask and waved, while home plate umpire Tom Gorman offered "a clenched fist in a 'keep-fighting' gesture." Campanella, who had vowed beforehand that he "wasn't going to cry," struggled to keep his emotions in check. He smiled back at Yogi (who "kept looking back and hardly could resist the temptation to run over and shake Campy's hand," said one reporter) and winked at the mob of photographers who gathered at his seat. For the rest of that warm October afternoon, he tried to focus on the game, even trying to eat a hot dog without success, but he could not stop thinking about the outpouring of love he had just experienced. "It's hard to explain the feeling that came over me. I don't believe any home run I ever hit was greeted by so much cheering," Campanella said later. It was the first time he had received such applause in a wheelchair, but it would not be the last. For the rest of his life, his presence, whether in a major league ballpark or in front of a Manhattan deli, would evoke similar responses. He was no longer just a ballplayer but a symbol of something much more. © 2011 Neil Lanctot Excerpted from Campy: The Two Lives of Roy Campanella by Neil Lanctot All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.