"Campy's now gone, Jackie's gone.
Moving from our friendly confines at
Ebbet's field to the glitz in Hollywood..
that was a pretty big move for us."
-Carl Erskine, Dodger's pitcher.
In 1958 the Dodgers spent their season losing- something they hadn't been used to in the last decade. Their 2nd season at the Coliseum in Los Angelas they needed some inspiration to lift their spirits and bring a World Series Championship home to a new group of fans in a new town like they had promised.
The only problem was that winning wasn't coming easy for the "boys of summer." The new park, which was the Los Angelas Memorial Coliseum housed a left field fence that was 257 feet, and a right center field fence that went back 455 feet.
The team was struggling, and along with that, their most famed players were no long with the team. Jackie Robinson had been gone since the end of the 1956 season, Duke and Hodges were on their last leg, and the Dodger's famed catcher, Roy Campanella, had suffered from a car accident which left him paralyzed and ended his career right before the Dodgers moved from Brooklyn.
The Dodgers finished 2nd to last in the West in 1958 and they needed something to lift their spirits in 1959.
Enter, former Dodgers catcher, Roy Campanella.
It hadn't been long since Campy, as he was called by his teammates, had been playing with the Dodgers. Roy, of Italian and African American decent was the 2nd player in Dodger history to break the color barrier. In 1948, a season after Jackie Robinson, he came to Brooklyn after spending two years jumping around their minor league system.
Campy also was the first African American player to coach a group of white professional athletes when he took over the manager role when Walter Aston was ejected from a game during the minor leagues in the 1947 season.
Campy's career was not without success. With 8 All-star selections, 3 NL MVP awards, and a World Series under his belt, Roy is a deserving Hall of Fame inductee. Campy was also a favorite on his team- which is why the LA Dodgers banned together in 1959 and decided to send their team some inspiration in the form of the very man they had played with for a decade.
On May 9th, the Dodgers held an exhibition game for which the Yankees agreed to fly to LA. This night, which was used to raise money for Campy's medical bills, would forever be known as Roy Campanella night. The Dodgers announced to the 93,103 in attendance that the lights would be turned off as former teammate Pee Wee Reese wheeled Campy to the mound.
"They told everybody-
we want each of you to light one match....
What a sight that was."
-Joe Pignatano, Dodger's catcher.
The entire coliseum lit a candle or match, and commentators remarked that it was the most beautiful and stunning sight you would ever see in sports.
Here was a city, which had only welcomed this former power-house of a team for a season- and a season which left much to be desired. Yet here were almost 100,000 fans and residents of LA packing into a football field to honor a man they had never even seen play before. LA was ready to back their Dodgers, and the Dodgers welcomed the encouragement.
"Roy had never played one inning in LA,
and yet, somehow,
that fandom in California
caught the spirit of Roy Campanella"
-Carl Erskine, Dodgers pitcher.
In 1959 Campy was also appointed the assistant supervisor of scouting for the Easter Coach. He went to spring trainings and helped mold young catchers and pitchers. "Campy's Bullpen" is still used in Dodger spring training today.
Sometimes, in baseball, fans come together to support a team in a way that can only be described as magical. This game has transcended through the ages and never ceases to be one of the main events in American culture and history to touch the lives of humans so perfectly. One fact remains- that when you get a group of 93,000 fans together to honor a great baseball legend, the event touches a lot of people. It also inspires a lot of people including the 1959 Dodgers who went on to beat my Go-Go White Sox and win the World Series that year.
Campy passed away in June of 1993 but not after helping mold the lives of many young players and fans. He will forever be remembered as not only a great player, and man, but also one of the most historically popular African American players of his time.
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