Roy Campanella's stellar career as the Brooklyn Dodgers catcher and team leader was tragically cut short by a car accident, yet his reputation as one of baseball's all-time greats has lived on for decades. This top lists highlights ten of the best baseball card appearance of a true Dodgers' legend who is forever tied to the team's days in Brooklyn.
Roy Campanella, given the nickname "Campy," began his professional baseball career in the Negro Leagues at 15 years old. Campanella debuted with the superbly-named Elite Giants, based in Washington, D.C., and the team later moved to Baltimore. He joined the Brooklyn Dodgers organization in 1946 and spent two years in the minor leagues until being called up in 1948, a season after Jackie Robinson integrated baseball in 1947.
Like Robinson, Campanella faced racism on and off the field and, just like Jackie, he overcame it. Campanella quickly established himself as one of the league's leading hitters and defensive catchers. In 1949, he, along with Robinson, Larry Doby, and Don Newcombe, became the first African Americans to be named to an All-Star team. Campanella would make the next eight consecutive All-Star teams and set many team records that would stand for decades.
Over his brief ten-year career, Campanella was selected as the MVP three times. He won the award in 1951, 1953, and 1955 with his last award coinciding with the Dodgers' World Series victory over their hated rivals, the New York Yankees.
In 1958, Campanella was paralyzed in a car accident which ended his remarkable career. The following season, the Dodgers would move to Los Angeles, making Campanella forever tied with the team's days in Brooklyn playing at Ebbets Field.
Campanella passed away in 1993, considerably limiting his number of certified autograph cards. However, he was included in the checklist for the 1992-1995 Front Row All-Time Great signature series. Each player included in the set had five cards devoted to them plus an on-card autograph. Over time, the set has become known for providing the first and, in some cases, the only certified autograph for many older players.
A few other interesting Campanella cards from more recent sets include several cards featuring original art. Donruss Diamond King artist Dick Perez created paintings for several postcard series releases in 1981 and Roy's card in the fourth series. Artist T.S. O'Connell also produced a series of card prints featuring baseball greats from 1984 to 1991 and the card for Campanella has a distinct p0p-art feel thanks to the bright yellow background. The set was dubbed the O'Connell & Son Ink set and it features 250 cards in total.
Being the team leader during the peak years of one of the most popular baseball franchises translates into nearly all of Campanella's trading cards being extremely popular and valuable. In constructing this list, individual card value is balanced with the desire to build a comprehensive collection representing Campanella's entire playing career.
Top 10 Roy Campanella Baseball Cards
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Campanella makes appearances in each Bowman set from 1949 to their last set in 1955. He would also appear in some early Topps sets (two of which are highlighted on this list) but was only featured in 1954 and 1955 Bowman, including this appearance in the famous TV-set design.
No matter how many times I examine cards from 1953 Bowman, I'm always struck by the technological improvements the set made over previous years. Examine the changes between the 1949 Bowman set, which added color on top of black-and-white photos (see the #1 card on this list), and Campanella's full-color photograph card three sets later and you can see a world of improvement.
While Gil Hodges, Campanella, and Duke Snider might be household names for any collector, Carl Furillo is not a name many are familiar with. Furillo would certainly own the "fan favorite" tag as he covered the outfield for 15 seasons, all with the Dodgers, in both Brooklyn and Los Angeles. He also led the National League in batting average in 1953. Campanella's power peaked in 1953 also when he smacked 41 home runs.
Although color photographs debuted with 1953 Bowman, Campanella's 1954 Bowman card is a work of art with a close-up of Roy's face giving fans a intimate view of the man than they would ever be able to see in person. The blue and white of his Dodger's cap also nicely blends with the cloudy blue sky, creating a well-composed trading card.
Although the previous year's Bowman set went to some pains to add a nameplate to the second half of the set, 1950 Bowman returned to the clean design used in 1948 Bowman. The reverse side reminds us that Campanella came to the attention of the Dodgers when he was a part of a Negro League All-Star team that had an exhibition game against the Boys in Blue.
Campanella's portrait on his 1953 Topps card is certainly one of the best paintings in the set and is among some of the more iconic cards Topps every created. The paintings in the '53 Topps set were painted by artist Gerry Dvorak who was an an animator for Hanna-Barbera and eventually worked on The Flintstones and Yogi Bear (which was a take on Campanella's rival Yogi Berra).
During the offseason following the 1957 season, Campanella was involved in a car accident in which he was paralyzed from the neck down, ending his career. Through physical therapy, he was able to regain the use of his arms and his courageous rehabilitation became an inspiration for many. The back of his 1959 Topps card includes an essay written by National League President Warren Giles in which he writes that kids playing baseball can look to Campanella as a player to emulate.
Campanella's 1951 Bowman card includes a great action shot of Roy ripping off his catcher's mask to try to track down a pop-up. Offering an interesting background inclusion, there is just a single spectator in the stands watching Campanella.
Known for his bat, Campanella was also one of the best defensive catchers to ever play the game. Of all the base runners who attempted to steal a base on him, Roy threw out 57% of them, which is still the career record.
Campanella's Topps debut in 1952 Topps is his most valuable card. It can regularly fetch more than $1,000 at auction, even through it post-dates his true rookie card by three years. The high-number series of '52 Topps runs from card #311 to #407 and the high value of Campanella's card is also tied to it being included in the rarest card grouping.
Collectors can find Campanella's rookie card in 1949 Bowman and, along with his Dodger teammate Duke Snider's rookie, it is the most valuable card in the set. It can approach $700 for near-mint copies and well over $1,000 for those rare very highly graded copies.