Friday, November 19, 2010

Roy Campanella in Cuba for spring training that ushered Jackie Robinson's arrival in the majors

Nov. 19: On this day in 1921, Hall of Famer Roy Campanella was born in Philadelphia.

"Campy," the Brooklyn Dodgers catcher, also played for last-place Marianao during the 1943-44 season, when he batted. 266 and lead the Tigres with 27 RBI.

More significant was his presence in Cuba in February-March 1947 as the Dodgers held spring training in Havana, a prelude to Jackie Robinson breaking the major league color barrier.

That spring, Robinson, Campanella, Don Newcombe and Roy Partlow were on the Dodgers' Montreal Royals farm team, quartered in seedy Havana hotel while the Dodgers stayed at the opulent Hotel Nacional.

During a 1997 interview, Newcombe described Campanella's importance to the quartet:

Thank God for Roy Campanella. He spoke a lot of it [Spanish]. He's from an Italian father. Italian and Spanish are similar. Roy made it possible for us to do the things we did. Roy spoke it and understood it. He could order food for us. ... We depended very much on Roy to get us a decent room in the hotel, get a fan in the hotel so we can sleep at night, those kinds of things.

Campanella made his major-league debut a year after Robinson on April 20, 1948. He died June 26, 1993 in Woodland Hills, Calif.

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