Campy: The Two Lives of Roy Campanella; A Book Review
- Updated: April 12, 2011
Even some who consider themselves serious fans of the game of baseball probably don’t know the true historical significance of the career and life of Roy Campanella. To many, Campanella is just a name of someone who is in the Hall of Fame, but he accomplished so much more on and off the field than most people recall. Author Neil Lanctot has attempted to remind those who have forgotten, and enlighten those who never knew, about the great career of the former Brooklyn Dodgers’ catcher in his new work “Campy: The Two Lives of Roy Campanella”.
As it turns out, if just a few things would have gone differently in baseball history, Campanella could have been the first player to break the color barrier and not his teammate, Jackie Robinson. Ironically, even though Robinson and Campanella came up together with the same Major League team, they weren’t as close as many would have thought. It wasn’t that Campanella was envious of Robinson breaking the barrier; apparently their personalities just didn’t mesh. While they did many off field events together, their bond was not as close as even the relationship between Robison and the player who broke the American League’s color barrier, Larry Doby.
Lancot, author of “Negro League Baseball: The Rise and Ruin of a Black Institution”, has once again done his due diligence with his work. He has created one of the most thorough biographies of a ball player to date. Not only does Lancot (pronounced Lank-toe) go in depth about Campanella’s successes on the field, but he goes into great length about his life outside of baseball as well. This life becomes extremely unique when readers learn that this eight-time All Star had his career cut short by an automobile accident in the 1957 off season that originally rendered him a quadriplegic.
This is not a one sided biography, like so many out there, that only speak to the positives of a person’s life. Lanctot goes into great detail about many aspects of the catcher’s life that would be considered not so popular. Facets of his life such as his marriages falling apart, growing apart from his own children and even fathering multiple children out of wedlock are not overlooked or brushed aside. The reader gains a true understanding of how Campanella went down the paths that led him to these decisions and what affects they had on his life.
Much of the book also chronicle’s the three time MVP’s time in the Negro Leagues as well as his fight to stay in the majors while playing in a country where many of the public venues were still segregated. While fans have heard the trials and tribulations that Robinson went through traveling the country as the first African American player, the perspective gained from Campanella’s experiences is similar, but still unique. Even though Robinson was there to test the waters and perhaps break the ice, it didn’t seem to make things any easier for Campy once he made his debut.
Included in the more than 400 pages of writing, the reader will also find 16 pages of pictures of Campanella in various points of his life, giving a visual representation to go along with the stories. There are not many detractors to this work as Lanctot seemed to want to make sure he had done more than sufficient research before he allowed the book to hit the shelves. This is evidenced by the more than 50 pages of references and notes that follow the work itself. Lanctot already has one award from the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) for the best book of baseball history or biography, and he may want to make room on his shelf for one more.
Overall Grade: 4.5/5