Roy Campanella Analysis
Schoor’s biography is typical of the genre of sports stories from the 1950’s era. The book opens with Campanella having reached the major leagues, returns to his early years as a youth in Philadelphia, and then follows the man through his career. In this respect, Roy Campanella is similar to many other sports biographies.
The difference with this book, however, is the nature of the athlete under study. Campanella was a rare individual. Athletes often portray themselves as playing for the love of sport, not for money. In many instances, the transparency of this statement is readily apparent. In Campanella’s case, however, he truly loved the sport, his team, and the fans of Brooklyn. This love was returned in kind; Campanella was arguably the most popular member of the Brooklyn team. Robinson was respected but rarely loved, and only Gil Hodges approached Campanella in the affection of teammates and fans.
Schoor brings across this feeling in his book, but in a nonsentimental manner. Campanella did not exhibit an athletic appearance: He was a relatively short, stocky man who could almost blend in with the crowd. Despite encountering discrimination, most clearly in the eight years that he was forced to spend with the Elite Giants if he wished to play professional baseball, Campanella rarely spoke out. In this respect, he was clearly set apart from teammate Robinson. What he did bring to the sport day after day was a smile and the determination to do his best despite injuries or the attitudes of others. Campanella’s leadership, enthusiasm, and general grit established him as one of the most popular players in the sport.
Campanella was voted Most Valuable Player (MVP) in 1951, 1953, and 1955, one of the few to receive that award three times. Not surprisingly, in two of those years the Dodgers were National League champions (1953 and 1955) and missed out in the third only because of Bobby Thomson’s famous home run in a play-off game with the Giants.
An underlying theme of Schoor’s biography is the subject of color. Although a topic rarely discussed explicitly in sports books of that era (and Schoor’s book is no exception), this biography delineates some of the problems that Campanella encountered in breaking the color line. While more liberal than most major league teams, the Dodgers were still predominately white in the 1950’s. Yet Campanella was a catcher, a position of authority on the field, and he is portrayed as able to direct both the pitching staff and other teammates with no visible antagonism. Clearly, this was an individual with a quiet sense of authority who was able to lead on the basis of such a personality.
The position of catcher is perhaps the most difficult to play on the athletic field. Players are subject to frequent injury, and in this respect Campanella was no exception. The importance of this player is perhaps best reflected when comparing his fortunes with those of the Dodgers. His best years correspond with those of success for the team, and as Schoor depicts, those years in which Campanella was most plagued by injuries—1954 and 1957—also represent the years in which the team was less competitive. Although not described in the book, the first year in which Campanella was no longer with the club—1958—the Dodgers finished seventh. Although baseball is a team sport in the true sense, Campanella was clearly first among equals.
Schoor’s admiration for his subject is readily apparent. Yet, unlike the situation with the biographies of many athletes, affection and admiration for Campanella need not be exaggerated. The book ends with Campanella’s return to the Dodgers, who had moved to Los Angeles. Although he was a quadriplegic and his athletic career was over, Campanella could still provide hope for others.