"It was just as bad as [Jackie] Robinson. He took all that 'n' stuff... It was hard to sit on the bench and hear the crap coming out of those guys."
He Never Complained
The challenges ahead were considerable, far greater than those he faced as a 15-year-old trying to break into the Negro Leagues. In his two seasons in the minor leagues in 1946 and 1947, he contended with dirt tossed in his face, a bigoted opposing manager who promised to run Campy and Don Newcombe "out of the league in a week’s time," and hostile players who peppered him with a nonstop volley of venomous racial insults. "It was just as bad as Robinson," recalled his teammate Butch Woyt. "He took all that 'n' stuff... It was hard to sit on the bench and hear the crap coming out of those guys."
Although some Black players in the early years of the "Great Experiment" proved unable to adapt to such an environment, Campy's game continued to improve. In 1948, one year after Robinson's Brooklyn debut, the Dodgers promoted Roy to the majors and eventually made him their starting catcher. Not surprisingly, the transition was anything but smooth.
He was beaned, probably intentionally, on his first major league pitch; and some Dodgers still openly recoiled at the presence of Black players.
But Campy’s determination to succeed never flagged. And with each season, his roly-poly build, lively personality, ready wit and considerable personal charm won over almost everyone. What also won them over was his undeniable ability.
In his ten seasons with the Dodgers, he racked up three Most Valuable Player awards and nailed a phenomenal 57.7 percent of runners attempting to steal. Perhaps most remarkable was his uncanny durability and resilience in the face of ongoing hand injuries, beanings, racial insults and Jim Crow treatment during the Dodgers' excursions down south.
Campanella, one admiring sportswriter once observed, seemed almost "indestructible." But on Jan. 28, 1958, the sheer force of will he had summoned so many times finally failed him. Driving to his home in Glen Cove, N.Y. after a long day spent at his liquor store and a nightclub, Campy apparently fell asleep at the wheel. His rental car slammed into a telephone pole and turned over on its right side. The accident left him a quadriplegic, and he would never walk again.