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Ron Fimrite
September 24, 1990
Three decades after his crippling accident, Roy Campanella is still getting the most out of life
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September 24, 1990

Triumph Of The Spirit

Three decades after his crippling accident, Roy Campanella is still getting the most out of life

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"One day the traveling secretary of the Baltimore Elite Giants came to our house and said he wanted me to play for them. I was only 15, but I was big for my age. Well, it wasn't long before I was playing my first game. Biz Mackey got hit by a foul tip, and Nish Weeb, our second-string catcher, also got hurt. So there I was behind the plate against the Philadelphia Stars out at the 44th and Parkside ballpark. It was a night game, and our pitcher, Bill Byrd, was a spitballer. I'd never caught a spitball in my life, but there I was. Biz said, 'Son, just watch me on the bench. I'll tell you what to do.' And that's what I did."

Roxie leans forward, clasps Campy under the arms and pulls him halfway out of his chair. He is as helpless as a baby in her grasp. But with his head facing straight down, he says, "We have to do this. If I don't get off this chair from time to time, I get pressure and sores and bad blisters, like the ones I had before." Gently, she replaces him in his cushioned seat. His face is expressionless.

Campy motors into the dining room. He looks up at a photograph on the wall. Depicted kneeling on the grass at the perimeter of a diamond formed by four bats is one of the greatest—maybe the greatest—inner defenses in baseball history: Robinson, 2b; Hodges, lb; Campanella, c; Billy Cox, 3b, and Reese, ss. Of that legendary quintet, only Reese and Campanella are still alive.

"When Roy got out of the hospital that first time," says Roxie, "the doctors gave him 10 years to live, 20 at the most. Roy has been in his wheelchair for 32 years. Dr. Rusk died last November." She looks away. "Roy has outlived all of his doctors."

Campy sits on the veranda of the lovely old Otesaga Hotel in Cooperstown, N.Y., at twilight. Below him on the patio, guests sip cocktails beneath green and white umbrellas. In the fading light the white wakes of speeding motorboats can be seen on the blue-gray surface of Lake Otsego. There is, as yet, no hint of the rainstorm that will descend the next morning and force postponement of the 1990 Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremonies. Campy, brilliant in a scarlet sport shirt, looks content. He is among old friends.

Of course, he shouldn't really be here at all. Less than two months earlier, in late June, he began having trouble breathing. He was hospitalized for three weeks, during which time a tracheotomy was performed and he was hooked up to an oxygen machine. It's a long, tiring trip from Los Angeles to Coopers-town, but Roy and Roxie have made it. Campy would have it no other way. He has been to every Hall of Fame induction since his own in 1969. The way he figures it: "It's a great honor to be in the Hall of Fame. Baseball has done so much for all of us that it doesn't seem much to set aside one weekend a year to come back here and give some support to the Hall and the fans who come to Cooperstown to see us. After all, when I was a boy growing up, it never dawned on me that I would have such an honor. And yet, here I am."

The Campanella party includes Acosta; Roxie's daughter, Joni; Joni's son, Cary, 13, and her husband, Michael; and Roy and Roxie's old friends from New York City, Judy and Vincent Daquino. Campy is chatting with Vincent when a familiar figure appears on the veranda. "Roy," says Daquino, "there's somebody right behind you who I know you'll want to see."

"You know I can't see behind me."

"How're ya doin', Campy?" says Reese.

Campy laughs. "Well, I do believe I know that voice," he says. "That's my blue-eyed brother." Reese, a 1984 Hall of Fame inductee, pulls up a chair alongside his old teammate.

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