Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Campanella Played the Outfield? -- Vintage Dodger Correspondence at Huggins & Scott Auctions

Here's a little bit of Dodger history found at Higgins and Scott Auctions. Featured above is a December 9, 1947 letter written by minor league catcher Roy Campanella to a chap named Al -- who is assumed to be then Dodger scout Al Campanis. (Auction Link Here)
Hi Al, 
Just a few lines to say I am well & getting along fine & also hope you are doing the same. Our team is in first place, with a two & half game lead. Newcombe hasn’t lost a game as yet, won his first five starts. 
Sal Ragovin [sic] is here also, we beat him last Sunday two to nothing, it was his first loss in five games. Max Surkont arrived here last week, he is playing with the same team Ragovin [sic] is on. 
Drop me a line, when you get time. What is this talk about me, playing the outfield?  (emphasis mine) Write by air mail $.10. 
As always, Campy.
As background, by the end of the 1947 season it was quite clear that Roy Campanella was ready for the 'Big Show'. He had slashed .273/.371/.432/.803 for Montreal and won the International League MVP. Nevertheless, there was a roadblock in Brooklyn by the name of Bruce Edwards -- who had a fine season himself as the Dodgers backstop in '47. Heck, he came in fourth place in MVP voting that season.

So, the Dodgers had to do something with Campy. Per Rick Swaine at the SABR biography project:
According to popular legend, (Branch) Rickey wanted Campanella to break the racial barrier in the American Association, the Midwestern Triple-A circuit, before he became established with the Dodgers. Therefore he attempted to conceal Roy’s skills from the press by carrying him on the preseason roster as an outfield candidate – a position for which Campanella was clearly ill-suited. A less Machiavellian, but plausible, explanation might be that Rickey didn’t want to cause dissension or put too much pressure on Campanella by replacing the popular Edwards. Whatever the reason, the Dodgers brought Campanella to camp as an outfielder and even tried him out at third base.  
(Pic via Ryan K. Barland on twitter)
It's a bit strange that something like this could actually work. Even in the late-40's you'd figure folks would be quite aware of the skills an Afircan-American catcher who just won the MVP in the International League had. Apparently, though news like that didn't travel well.

As for what happened that upcoming season, Dodger chief Leo Durocher kept Campy on the 1948 Opening Day roster and had him play in three games before he was sent to the St. Paul Saints in the American Association. There he got into 35 games and slashed an impressive .325/.432/.715/1.147 before being sent back to Brooklyn for good.

BTW, last year the St. Paul Saints honored Roy with 'Roy Campanella Day'. Here's a great article written about the occasion and some thoughts from folks who were there when Campanella came to Minnesota to play ball -- Per Bryan Murphy at the Twin Cities Pioneer Press:
Saints manager Walter Alston, the Dodgers’ future hall of fame skipper, wrote Campanella into the Saints’ lineup May 22 at Columbus. His debut was a near disaster. 
Campanella was hitless in four at-bats, struck out twice and committed an error at catcher. During an extended eastern road trip he accumulated four hits — all singles — as the struggling Saints tumbled out of first place all the way down to fourth. 
“They were in the heat of trying to win a championship and his first couple of games didn’t do too well, which left a lot of people wondering, ‘Who is this guy?’ ” according to White. “But then he went on a tear.” 
Campanella’s first Twin Cities appearance was May 30 in Minneapolis, where Campanella hit a pair of home runs in a blowout loss to the Millers. 
The next day a crowd of more than 11,000 showed up at Lexington Park, and Campanella treated fans to a triple and solo home run. During St. Paul’s next homestand, Campanella found his groove, homering in six straight games while driving in runs left and right.

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