- The book: “Jackie & Campy: The Untold Story of Their Rocky Relationship and the Breaking of Baseball’s Color Line”
- The author: William C. Kashatus
- Vital stats: University of Nebraska Press, 296 pages, $24.95
- Find it: At University of Nebraska Press website, at Powells.com, at Vromans.com, at Amazon.com.
- The pitch: Maybe this story has been told before.
In the notes to the introduction of this book, Kashatus cites some stories found in his research: “A Feud Grows in Brooklyn,” is the headline on a piece by the L.A. Sentinel’s Doc Young in 1957. “Campy Envied Me,’ Busy Robby Hastens to Explain,” wrote Dick Young in the New York Daily News about a month before Doc Young’s story. “Campy Ridicules Robinson: I’ll Catch 5 More Years,” Young wrote again, the day after his previous story.
Maybe those of us who were not around when Robinson was retiring in 1956, or as Campanella had his career end in 1957 after a car accident never heard this side of their relationship before.
Not that we expect all teammates to get along. Winning solves a lot of relationship issues.
So why bring it up again? Because as the latest rounds of Jackie Robinson tributes come again on this day set aside in his honor, some reflection on how his legacy didn’t always mix with his fellow African-American Dodgers teammates, and why differing approaches toward the end-goal of equality was more likely a reflection of society as a whole as it fought through ways of getting to the end game.
It shouldn’t surprise us that Robinson and Campanella were from almost two different worlds.
Just look at the titles of their autobiographies — “I Never Had It Made,” went with Robinson, who moved to Pasadena with his mom as school kid, while “It’s Great To Be Alive” is connected to Campanella, whose father was Italian and his mother black.
Robinson was all about intensity, aggressiveness, pride. Campanella was more easy going, charming, and wanted his abilities to speak for themselves. And there they butted heads often, writes Kashatus, using the comparison in his introduction to how the two mirrored a philosophy toward ending segregation as Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois did in their own ways.
In interviews Kashatus does with Hank Aaron, Monte Irvin, Carl Erskin and Don Zimmer, he cultivates more information about the Robinson-Campanella dynamic. But a glaring omission is no interview with Don Newcombe, their legendary teammate still living, or with others like Vin Scully, Sandy Koufax or even family members from either side.
In the acknowledgements, Kashatus writes that he “regrets that the Robinson and Campanella families failed to return my phone calls and emails. Their insights would have contributed significantly to the substance and scope of the book.”
Kashatus does acknowledge that Robinson and Campanella may have been estranged for years, but they did come to realize how the other’s approach was viable based on their own post-career experiences. The two did join each other on the field at Dodger Stadium for that historic Old Timers Game in 1972 when their numbers were retired. This was eight years after the two did get together at Campanella’s liquor store in Harlem and have a two-hour discussion on race relations in America.
As Kashatus concludes in the epilogue: “To diminish either man’s contribution because of their different approaches to civil rights is just as irresponsible as idolizing them. They civil rights movement would have have been successful without accommodation and direct action.”
- More to know:
== Coming in Sept., 2014: “Rickey & Robinson: The True, Untold Story of the Integration of Baseball,” by Roger Kahn
== A reissue of the 1998 book, “Jackie Robinson: An Intimate Portrait” is back in print with a new dustjacket by Abrams Books. Find it at Abrams Books, at Powells.com, at Vromans.com, at Amazon.com