Tuesday, January 28, 2014

January 28, 1958: Roy Campanella Paralyzed

     On January 28, 1958,  Roy Campanella of the Brooklyn Dodgers was paralyzed after he hit a telephone pole with the car he was driving. The 36 year old catcher had taken home MVP honors three times, helped lead the Dodgers to five National League Pennants, as well as a World Series Championship in 1955. It was a devastating blow for Campanella and the fans in Brooklyn. They were getting ready to watch the team they had loved head west, and one of their own had just suffered a terrible injury, it was a hard pill to swallow. Like the fans in Brooklyn, Campanella would move on. He remained active within the Dodgers organization and would receive multiple honors from those that had watched him play the game he loved.

     The accident happened after 3 a.m. on that fateful day. Campy, as his teammates called him, was driving a '57 Chevy home from a liquor store that he owned and operated when he hit a patch of ice and careened into the pole that changed his life forever. The injuries sustained looked to be much worse initially as the doctors feared that he would be quadriplegic, within 24 hours he began to regain some feeling in his upper body and would gain control of his arms and hands so the worst case scenario had been averted. The accident ended the career of Campanella, but it didn't end his life, and he was thankful for that. He had a lot to live for, which included six children.

     Following the accident, his marriage fell apart, a few years later he met his third wife Roxie who remained by his side until he passed away in 1993. He did live a good life, it might not have been under the perfect circumstances, but he adapted and learned to live with his disability. I know a couple of people who have suffered the same fate as Roy Campanella. They both lost the use of their legs due to accidents. With the advancement of medical technology we do have hope that one day they will be able to walk again. The most important thing is, no matter what happens, the injuries sustained have not defeated them by any means, it is something they share with Roy Campanella.

     The Dodgers organization honored him with a record setting crowd of more than 90,000 in 1959. In '69 he joined the ranks of baseball's greatest in Cooperstown, New York, and in 1972 his #39 was retired by the Dodgers organization. Today, when I hear the name Roy Campanella the first thing that comes to mind is the accident. I think one of the reasons behind that is I never got to see him play. He did suffer injuries throughout his playing career that ended up limiting some but when he was on the field he was one of the best in the game. Campanella caught three no hitters, held a .276 career average, and was a guiding force behind a Dodgers team that were considered to be one of the best in the National League on a yearly basis. To have seen him play would have surely been a treat. Numbers can always tell a tale but there is nothing like seeing it with your own eyes.

If you would like to read about Campanella's life and career check out his bio that was published by the Society of American Baseball Research here: http://sabr.org/bioproj/person/a52ccbb5

Campanella's career numbers and accomplishments: http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/c/camparo01.shtml

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