My dad is a big reader.
He loves reading sports books, particularly about his heroes from the ’50s and ’60s. I mention that because it explains how we ended up talking about Roy Campanella last weekend.
He was reading a book about the Dodgers catcher when he arrived in Prince Albert and we ended up chatting about him several times.
For younger readers or non-sports fans, Campanella was a catcher for the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1948-57. He was one of the great players of the era.
A lot of people know that Jackie Robinson broke the colour barrier in the Major Leagues -- in which African American players couldn’t play in the majors -- but few could name the men who followed.
Robinson was joined in the majors in 1947 by Larry Doby, Hank Thompson and Willard Brown, with Robinson and Doby eventually being added to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Campanella joined the Dodgers in 1948, one of two African American players to be added that year. The other was an aging pitcher named Leroy Robert Paige, better know as Satchel, one of the greatest pitchers of all time. Paige debuted at age 42 after years of starring in the Negro Leagues.
It’s sad to think about what he could have accomplished if he had gone straight to the Majors in 1926 when he first started getting paid to play.
Those were some of the facts we discovered as we discussed and searched for information on Campanella.
If you’re familiar with the squat catcher, you know that the story will take a terrible turn on Jan. 28, 1958. But we’ll get to that.
Campanella debuted in the Negro Leagues in 1937 with the Washington Elite Giants at age 16, becoming a star with the team.
He also spent time in the Mexican League, where African American players could ply their trade.
In 1946, the Dodgers added him to their minor league franchise in the Class B New England League, which actually became the first American team in the century with an integrated team.
While Robinson went to the Dodgers in 1947, Campenella came a year later.
The 5’7” catcher played in the all-star game from 1949-56, earning three National League MVP awards (1951, 1953, 1955) and being named to the all-star team eight times.
His Dodgers captured the World Series in 1955.
What followed on Jan. 28, 1958 would end his career.
He was driving home late at night when his car hit a patch of ice and skidded into a telephone pole.
Campanella never walked again. He fractured two vertebrae and compressed his spinal cord, leaving him in a wheelchair until his death in 1993 at age 71.
The Dodgers moved to Los Angeles that offseason but named him a special coach and gave him some scouting duties. He later helped out in community relations.
It’s nice that Robinson receives his due but sad that players like Doby and Campanella are mostly forgotten.
Doby is credited with integrating the American League parks that Robinson never played in. He appeared in seven all-star games and was a two-time home run champion.
When you consider the backdrop of horrible racism that these brave men played in, it’s a wonder that they were able to play as well as they did. With the overt racism of the time, including the death threats, they had a lot on their mind.
It’s an interesting side note that one of this year’s World Series teams was the last to integrate its lineup.
The Boston Red Sox waited until 1959 to add an African American player, Pumpsie Green, five years after the Cardinals fielded Tom Alston in 1954.
It’s strange that all of this happened just a few decades ago.
• • •
Now that it’s a solid six-hour drive to the border for me, I don’t worry as much about where the Canadian dollar is at.
When I lived in Brandon, the U.S. border was just 74 kilometres away. Shopping in Minot (267 km), Bismarck (418 km), Grand Forks (410 km) or even Fargo (531 km) was an afternoon trip. While none of those four cities I mentioned might be widely known for their shopping, each has the big American chains that at least add some variety and spice to a retail excursion.
A trip down for a weekend was not a big deal.
It’s one of the few things I miss since making my move to Prince Albert. Bismarck, the closest of the cities I mentioned, now lies 928 km away, while Billings is 978 km away.
You probably want a few days down there just so you don’t spend the whole holiday travelling.
As a result, I haven’t been down to the States since my trip through North Dakota and Minnesota to beautiful Madison, Wis., last September. At the time, the Canadian dollar was on par with the U.S. dollar.
I was startled last week when an announcement by the Bank Of Canada on interest rates dropped the loonie a full cent to 96.3. I had lost track and hadn’t realized it was down a few cents.
At least it’s a long way from those horrible days when you lost nearly 40 cents on every dollar that you spent in the United States.
The dollar hit its all-time low on Jan. 21, 2002 when it bottomed out at 61.79 cents. Those were the days when it was jokingly referred to as the Northern Peso.
It’s odd to think that just five years later, on Nov. 7, 2007, the loonie very briefly hit $1.10 against the greenback before dropping nine cents in the next two weeks.
I’ve kicked myself more than once for not sprinting to a bank at that time to exchange some dollars and then burying them in the backyard until the loonie dropped again.
As long as I’m not losing half of my loot each time I cross the border, I remain upbeat about visiting the bank to exchange my cash.
Now it’s just a matter of planning another trip. And preparing for a long drive.
Perry Bergson is the Daily Herald’s managing editor. You can reach him at 765-1302 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org