Jackie and Roy

Tot Holmes, one of the great Dodgers historians, did a retrospective this week on Roy Campanella, the Hall of Fame paralyzing catcher who was paralyzed in a freak ice storm on a cold and wintry night. You have to be past 60 to know what Roy Campanella was before his accident.

Jackie Robinson, with an aside to Branch Rickey, got all the history but Jackie without Roy would  have been a whole  lot different, a whole lot different. Jackie was the All American from California, an Army officer, an aristocrat in any sport. Roy was an inner city kid from Philadelphia, son of an Italian father and Afro American mother. No collegian, Roy Campanella was the  "collegiate" teammate, the soft spoken (he talked in a whisper not a shout, the inner city kid who  talked in understatement not Jackie's razor sharp cuts) guy who could calm Jackie down one way or another, one way or another, when the great Jackie would get out of hand - and Jackie would get out of hand.

Jackie Robinson was respected but he wasn't necessarily liked. Jackie would never win any popularity contests.  He was a winner all right, but he wasn't really liked even in his own clubhouse. Roy was. Doesn't mean Roy Campanella was any pussycat. Don't even think he was an Uncle Tom. And when Roy Campanella determined there should be a little more peace and a little less contention in  the clubhouse, it was peace and a little less contention - no matter if it was Jackie or the Duke or ANYBODY else. Period.  Roy and Gil Hodges were the two sergeant at arms in the clubhouse. Speak softly,  speak softly but never let anybody confuse who was in charge in the clubhouse.

Today's fans can even begin to fathom the shock of Roy's accident. Its notable that the two greatest Dodgers, Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella,  hard battlers in two different kinds of ways, both were felled by illness, one sudden and catastrophic, the other insidious by inches and days. Within years of their glory years, Jackie and Roy were each crippled, one paralyzed the other blinded by diabetes.

Branch Rickey picked the right guy as the trailblazer,but he never left him to his own devices. Rickey placed Roy Campanella to be at his right hand almost from the beginning. There were two different people. Very different. Jackie would take slights sometimes when there weren't even slights to be taken.  Roy would let  little stuff slide, taking his time, picking his spots. Jackie left baseball for other ventures the day he could no longer play. Roy would have been and was a baseball lifer.

This week, two Afro American football coaches become the first ever in a Super Bowl. It's  a shame they have to owe any heritage at all to either Jackie Robinson OR Roy Campanella, but the fact is they owe a lot to BOTH, not just Jackie.

Jackie and Roy were married to two remarkable women, Rachel Robinson and Roxie Campanella.  The two guys leaned on their women a lot. We sponsored a dinner that was to be Jackie's last speech, for Brotherhood Week sponsored by the National Conference of Christians and Jews. Jackie, almost totally blind by then, had to be led to the podium by Rachel Robinson. Long after Jackie passed, we would spend many a wonderful balmy spring evening under  the palm trees in Vero Beach with Roy and his personal trainer and the regal Roxie.

A generation before Johnny Bench became the benchmark for catchers, we can still remember Roy tossing out baserunners from a squat. He was to stay in the squat every second of his life after his accident. Jackie Robinson had a chip on his shoulder all  through life.  He had a chip on every shoulder and some more in other places as well.  Roy Campanella looked at life sunny side  up.

We respected Jackie Robinson. So respected him. But we LOVED Roy Campanella.

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