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Dodgers Dugout: The 25 greatest Dodgers of all time, No. 7: Roy Campanella 

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Hi, and welcome to another edition of Dodgers Dugout. My name is Houston Mitchell and let’s get right to No. 7 in our countdown.

The 25 greatest Dodgers, No. 7: Roy Campanella (45 first-place votes, 28,262 points)

One of the greatest catchers of all time, Roy Campanella began his Dodgers tenure in 1948 and played with the team until his career was cut short after the 1957 season. In that time, all he did was: win three NL MVP awards, make eight All-Star teams, hit 242 homers, have a .500 slugging percentage and play Gold Glove-worthy defense behind the plate.

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Campanella was the sixth African American player in the majors, and his career started late because of the color barrier. He was already 26 when he started in the majors, and his career ended because of his car accident, making Campanella the Hall of Famer with the fewest number of plate appearances (among position players). But he packed a lot into those plate appearances.

Campanella received the NL MVP award in 1951, 1953 and 1955. In 1955, he led the Dodgers to their first World Series title. His 142 RBIs in 1953 broke the franchise record of 130, which had been held by Jack Fournier (1925) and Babe Herman (1930) and is still second on the all-time list, after Tommy Davis’ 153 in 1962.

The Dodgers moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles after the 1957 season, and Campanella was all set to be the team’s starting catcher in Los Angeles. On Jan. 28, 1958, while driving in New York, Campanella’s car hit a patch of ice, ran into a telephone pole and overturned. Campanella broke his neck in the accident and was paralyzed. He eventually regained use of his arms, but he remained in a wheelchair for the rest of his life before dying on June 26, 1993.

On May 7, 1959, the Dodgers honored their longtime catcher with Roy Campanella Night at the L.A. Coliseum. The Dodgers played the New York Yankees in an exhibition game before a crowd of 93,103, the largest crowd to attend a Major League Baseball game.

On a personal note, my mom was friends with a woman who had season seats in the front of the club level (the level where the press box is) in the early to mid-1980s. She often invited us to go to games with her. Sitting next to the press box in those days was Campanella, in his wheelchair, taking in each game. I was a teenager at the time and painfully shy, so I would pass by him each time we went to a game, but never said anything to him. He was a legendary figure and it was an honor just to be on the same level with him. Finally, one game I worked up the courage to walk up to him and say, “Mr. Campanella, I’m sorry to bother you. I just wanted to say hi and tell you what a big fan I am of you.” He smiled and I started to walk away. He called me over, asked my name, and for the next two innings or so, I sat next to Roy Campanella as we talked about baseball and the Dodgers. It remains one of the great moments of my life.

The list

No. 8: Tommy Lasorda

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No. 9: Fernando Valenzuela

No. 10: Pee Wee Reese

No. 11: Orel Hershiser

No. 12: Maury Wills

No. 13: Gil Hodges

No. 14: Steve Garvey

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No. 15: Walter Alston

No. 16: Walter O’Malley

No. 17: Branch Rickey

No. 18: Don Sutton

No. 19: Mike Piazza

No. 20: Zack Wheat

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No. 21: Don Newcombe

No. 22: Kirk Gibson

No. 23: Ron Cey

No. 24: Tommy Davis

No. 25: Jim Gilliam

Note: I received 8,382 ballots from newsletter readers who sent me their choices for the top 10 Dodgers of all time. Points were assigned based on ranking, with the first-place choice getting 12 points, second place getting 10, third place eight, down to one point for 10th place. After tabulating the ballots, I will be presenting the top 25 in points. We will be counting down Nos. 25 to 11, one each weekday, for the next three weeks. Then we will time the top 10 so No. 1 unveils March 29, the day the season opens. There will be separate newsletters for any news that comes out of spring training.

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And finally

Sorry I was a day late with No. 7. Asthma is not good. Next up (on Friday) is No. 6, the second of four pitchers in the top 10.

Have a comment or something you’d like to see in a future Dodgers newsletter? Email me and follow me on Twitter: @latimeshouston.

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