L.A.’s greatest sports moments, No. 16: Honoring Roy Campanella
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We asked you to send in your picks for the greatest sports moments in L.A. history, and 1,181 ballots later we are unveiling the top 20 vote-getters. Each weekday we will unveil a new moment until we reach No. 1.
No. 16: Honoring Roy Campanella (Seven first-place votes, 2,642 points)
Roy Campanella is one of the greatest catchers to ever play baseball. A three-time MVP with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Campanella was preparing to make the move to Los Angeles with the rest of the team when tragedy struck.
Like most players in that day, well before the era of multimillion-dollar contracts, Campanella had an offseason job. He owned and worked at a liquor store in Harlem. On Jan. 28, 1958, Campanella drove home after closing the store for the night. While traveling at about 30 mph, his car hit a patch of ice, skidded into a telephone pole and overturned, breaking Campanella’s neck.
The impact broke his fifth and sixth cervical vertebrae and compressed his spinal cord, leaving him paralyzed from the shoulders down. He would require a wheelchair for the rest of his life.
Devastated by the loss of their catcher and wanting to honor him in some way, the Dodgers decided the hold an exhibition game in his honor at the L.A. Coliseum, their home until Dodger Stadium was completed. The proceeds from the game would be used to help pay Campanella’s medical bills.
On May 7, 1959, the Dodgers held ‘Roy Campanella Night’ at the Coliseum. The New York Yankees agreed to make a special trip to Los Angeles to play the Dodgers for the occasion and 93,103 people filled the stadium to watch the game and pay tribute to Campanella, setting the stage for one of the most amazing sights in sports history.
Between the fifth and sixth innings, the lights were turned off, and the fans lit matches and cigarette lighters in a silent tribute. People at the event described the ceremony as bathing the field in an almost celestial glow.
In 1969, Campanella was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. He died in 1993 at the age of 71.