The Two Lives of Roy Campanella
By Neil Lanctot
Simon & Schuster, Hardcover, 9781416547044, 528pp.
Publication Date: March 8, 2011
Neil Lanctot’s biography of Hall of Fame catcher Roy Campanella—filled with surprises—is the first life of the Dodger great in decades and the most authoritative ever published.
Born to a father of Italian descent and an African- American mother, Campanella wanted to be a ballplayer from childhood but was barred by color from the major leagues. He dropped out of school to play professional ball with the Negro Leagues’ Washington (later Baltimore) Elite Giants, where he honed his skills under Hall of Fame catcher Biz Mackey. Campy played eight years in the Negro Leagues until the major leagues integrated. Ironically, he and not Jackie Robinson might have been the player to integrate baseball, as Lanctot reveals. An early recruit to Branch Rickey’s “Great Experiment” with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Campy became the first African-American catcher in the twentieth century in the major leagues. As Lanctot discloses, Campanella and Robinson, pioneers of integration, had a contentious relationship, largely as a result of a dispute over postseason barnstorming.
Campanella was a mainstay of the great Dodger teams that consistently contended for pennants in the late 1940s and 1950s. He was a three-time MVP, an outstanding defensive catcher, and a powerful offensive threat. But on a rainy January night in 1958, all that changed. On his way home from his liquor store in Harlem, Campy lost control of his car, hit a utility pole, and was paralyzed below the neck. Lanctot reveals how Campanella’s complicated personal life (he would marry three times) played a role in the accident. Campanella would now become another sort of pioneer, learning new techniques of physical therapy under the celebrated Dr. Howard Rusk at his Institute of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. As he gradually recovered some limited motion, Campanella inspired other athletes and physically handicapped people everywhere.
Based on interviews with dozens of people who knew Roy Campanella and diligent research into contemporary sources, Campy offers a three-dimensional portrait of this gifted athlete and remarkable man whose second life after baseball would prove as illustrious and courageous as his first.
"Campy, a rich and thoroughly enjoyable book, may well alter [reader's] attitudes about a man who might be the most overlooked star in Dodgers history."
—Russ Stanton, Los Angeles Times
“As a black American and a quadriplegic, Roy Campanella faced double-barreled discrimination with courage and determination. Neil Lanctot's authoritative, even-handed Campy strips away the myths and captures the joys and struggles of a superb ball player who was a true pioneer both on and off the field."
—James S. Hirsch, author of Willie Mays: The Life, the Legend
“Neil Lanctot has written a powerful, richly detailed account of one of the most fascinating sports figures America has ever produced. He captures every detail and every nuance of this beloved man and brilliant athlete. Campanella is unforgettable. So is this book.”
—Jonathan Eig, author of Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig and Opening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinson’s First Season
"A thorough portrait, rich in detail, shimmering with warmth."
—Stan Hochman, The Philadelphia Daily News
"Hall-of-Famer Roy 'Campy' Campanella's life story has never received the comprehensive treatment that it deserves — until now. Neil Lanctot's assiduous research and crisp style produce a compelling biography on one of baseball's most captivating and irrepressible personalities. Grade: Home run."
—Mark Hodermarsky, Cleveland Plain Dealer
"Campy is a fine behind-the-scenes recounting of baseball personalities and Campanella's limited but courageous life in a wheelchair."
—Dick Kreck, The Denver Post
"With the publication of Neil Lanctot’s superb biography, Campy, Roy Campanella is no longer the greatest player about whom there is no definitive biography."
—Allen Barra, The Newark Star-Ledger
"Lanctot is meticulous in putting together the first truly comprehensive biography of a baseball great."
—Chris Foran, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
"Fans of the sport and that era will certainly find plenty to chew on in this solid biography."
—Budd Bailey, The Buffalo News
"Lancot writes fluidly about dignity and pettiness, warmth and controversy, and triumph and despair. It’s a deeper, richer portrait that is stunning in its detail. It’s a compelling read.”
—Bob D'Angelo, Tampa Bay Tribune