Campanella spent almost three months in the Glen Cove hospital, and then O'Malley arranged for him to be transferred to the care of Dr. Howard Rusk, director of the Institute of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (also known as the Rusk Institute) at New York University in Manhattan. Writing in 1978 in
, Rusk described Campanella as he had first seen him: "His tough muscles were still hard, but his body was as unresponsive as stone. He had slight movement in his wrists and could extend and bend his arms but not his fingers. And those anxious eyes filled with questions about the future."
The great ballplayer—the first catcher in major league history to hit 40 or more homers in a season, the National League's RBI leader in 1953 with 142, a key player on five pennant-winning teams and the 1955 World Series champions—was paralyzed from just below the shoulders. For life.
Rusk spoke to him: "Campy, I don't know whether you're going to get a little back, a lot back—or nothing. Only time will tell. We'll start to train you tomorrow, but there's no magic in this. You will have to work harder than you ever have in your life."
"I'm ready," said Campanella.
"I always say to people that if you're feeling down, just take the elevator to the fourth floor of Dodger Stadium," says former Dodger pitcher Joe Black, "because there you'll find Campy. Now, there's a man who could truthfully say that life's kicked him squarely in the butt. He could be as bitter as anyone alive. But no. What you'll find instead is someone sitting there in his wheelchair smiling away and talking to everyone, reaching out to people and saying, 'Don't you dare feel sorry for me.' I had a friend of mine go up there once, and he came back saying, 'Why, that man just makes you feel so important. He makes you feel good all over.' That's what he does, all right. He just touches your life."
Campy is sitting behind aisle 201, next door to Dodger president Peter O'Malley's enclosed box. On some nights he watches games from inside the box, but then he can't talk to the fans, so most of the time he's outside, seated behind his third wife, Roxie, some of their friends and his attendant, Richard Acosta. When the Dodgers are home, the ball game is pretty much all there is to Campy's day, because it takes four hours for Roxie, a former nurse, and Acosta to get him out of bed, attend to his immediate needs, adjust the various instruments he needs to breathe properly and dress him for the trip by special van to Dodger Stadium.
"He is completely helpless until someone gets him out of bed," says Acosta, 36. "He told me one day, 'Richard, if I hadn't accepted this, I wouldn't be alive today. I had to learn a whole different way of living.' Clothes are important to him. He's very particular about how he's dressed. He's a very determined man, and he always wants to look his best."
"He doesn't look paralyzed at all from the waist up," says Roxie. "He looks nice."
And so he does. This June night he's wearing a blue blazer, a cream-colored sport shirt, light blue slacks and off-white shoes. He looks especially good for someone who spent from last Dec. 30 to April 6 in the Northridge ( Calif.) Medical Center for treatment of pneumonia and diabetes and for gallbladder surgery. Campanella missed the Dodgers' spring training at Vero Beach, Fla., for the first time in a dozen years, and he would have missed Opening Day had it not been for the lockout. "I think they held the season up for him on purpose," says Dodger catcher Mike Scioscia, a Campy prot�g�. Campanella was there when the Dodgers opened at home against the Padres on April 9. He has hardly missed a home game since he and Roxie moved west in 1978. "That s.o.b. is a battler," says Newcombe. "He's the toughest s.o.b. I've ever known."
Campanella's last hospital stay took some weight off him—he's down to about 175 from close to 200 pounds—and his face seems drawn. A respiratory weakness has left him short of breath, and he speaks in a robust whisper that can scarcely be heard above the clamor of 35,000 baseball fans. But he has a smile and a wave for the parade of visitors who seek him out at aisle 201.