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Remembering A Hero: A Tribute to Roy Campanella


Roy Campanella
Roz Wyman, Los Angeles City Councilwoman from the Fifth District, extends the council’s best wishes to Roy Campanella as part of an in-game tribute to him on May 7, 1959. A baseball fan for many years, Wyman was the driving force in attracting the Dodgers to Los Angeles from Brooklyn.

By Brent Shyer

American icon Roy Campanella, whose courageous life’s story inspired countless others to lift themselves up in the face of adversity, will be remembered this week on the 50th Anniversary of special recognition in his honor.
“Roy Campanella Night,” a dramatic and unforgettable tribute to his strength during the most challenging times, was held on May 7, 1959 before 93,103 fans, a major league record crowd, at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. It is awe-inspiring to consider that a sell-out crowd, with more than 15,000 more turned away at the gates, showed up for former Brooklyn Dodger catcher Campanella, who had been paralyzed at 36 years old in a single-car accident in 1958, and never had the opportunity to play a game in Los Angeles. Yet, all of those fans wanted to partake in the ceremonies during an exhibition game between the Dodgers and the New York Yankees. The attendance record stood for 49 years.
This Thursday, May 7, Roy’s daughter Joni Roan is scheduled to throw the ceremonial first pitch prior to a game at Dodger Stadium to recall the historic event.
Dodger owner Walter O’Malley arranged for this special evening to honor Campanella and it was much appreciated by his former three-time National League MVP. “A lot of people didn’t know the man (O’Malley) for what he was,” said Campy. “He stood by me every minute after my accident, helping me to see my way through. No one knows that after that wonderful night he had for me in the Coliseum when 93,000 showed up, he gave me a check for $50,000. And he continued my salary, which was more than $50,000 a year, for years after that. He was a great pioneer in integrating baseball.”1
O’Malley worked for a long time in formulating the concept of a series of exhibition games with the Yankees. Originally, the game was suggested by the Hearst Newspapers in New York. Later, O’Malley and Yankees’ owner Del Webb, along with executives E.J. “Buzzie” Bavasi, Dan Topping and George Weiss, worked out arrangements to play a game in Los Angeles. O’Malley agreed to pay the Yankees their travel expenses and approximately $85,000 for the trip. He also provided Campanella with one-half of the proceeds from the game, setting up an account with the three-time MVP catcher’s attorney to safeguard the funds.
In a tough travel schedule, the Dodgers played a regular-season game on the afternoon of May 7 in San Francisco, defeating the Giants, 2-1 at Seals Stadium, flew back to Los Angeles to play the night exhibition contest, losing to the Yankees, 6-2 and then returned to San Francisco for the next night’s game.
But, Campanella’s inspiring story began years before the tribute game.
From the time he was seven, Campanella grew up amongst the row houses in the Nicetown section of Philadelphia, which in the 1920s was filled largely with Polish and Italian immigrants. In the neighborhood, he began to hear the taunts of other children who called him "half-breed," as he was the son of an African-American mother named Ida and an Italian-American father named John. It was just the beginning of lifelong struggles for a star athlete who could only dream of playing baseball professionally — in the Negro Leagues, that is. At the tender age of 15, Campanella was spotted and signed by the Baltimore Elite Giants from the Bacharach Giants, a Negro semi-pro team in Philadelphia, for whom his mother had given him permission to play a few games as a part-time catcher.
Campanella had to overcome persistent prejudice that all African-Americans of his era endured, but he never let that deter him from playing baseball, the game he truly loved with all his heart and soul.

1 Los Angeles Times, August 10, 1979

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