No one connected with the sporting world could hear without sorrow the news of Roy Campanella's automobile accident yesterday.
As catcher for the Brooklyn Dodgers these past ten years Campanella has earned the respect of baseball men everywhere--both as a player and as a man.
Campanella the player is as fine a catcher as ever put on mask and pads. He has won the Most Valuable Player Award three times. Excepting Stan Musial, no other National Leaguer has done that. He has hit more home runs (242) than any catcher ever did; he has a lifetime batting average of .276.
But statistics are not the full measure of Campy's baseball ability. All baseball statistics are liable to be misleading; catching statistics are particularly inadequate. There is no way to measure the ability to handle pitchers or call intelligent signals. But, on the testimony of veteran baseball observers, in these departments Campanella is without peer.
Handling the Brooklyn pitching staff has been no easy job, either. From Wild Rex Barney to Don Newcombe (currently under the care of a hypnotist) to Sandy Koufax, Brooklyn pitchers have been very much in the "daffy Dodger" tradition. Himself a happy, easy-going person, Campy has exerted a steadying influence on his less stable teammates.
Campanella came up to the majors by a long and devious route. He spent nine years in Negro baseball, catching an average of 250 to 300 games a year, and as many as four in one day. "Once in a while they'd give me a day off and put me in right field," he recalled recently.
Campanella the man is known to many who have no direct connection with baseball. Students and alumni of Brooklyn high schools remember his frequent visits to their classrooms and athletic fields, in support of anti-juvenile delinquency campaigns.
His teammate Jackie Robinson was the first to cross the major league color bar. But Robinson is a highly sensitive man, given to sudden outbursts of anger. And the more even-tempered Campanella, joining the Dodgers a year after Robinson, did much to secure the place of his race in major league baseball.
Yesterday morning Campanella was installed at a hospital in Glen Cove on Long Island. He was paralyzed from the chest down, his condition listed as "critical." By last night hopes were raised that he might be on his feet again in six weeks; his baseball future, however, remains very uncertain.
Campanella has made no attempt to conceal his liking for life in the Big Leagues. "I'll never quit the game," he promised during his first year in spring training at Vero Beach, Florida. "It's too good up here. They'll have to carry me off."
The hour of any baseball player is necessarily brief; yet one must hope, for the sake of more than baseball, that this does not go down as the year they carried Roy Campanella out.