Friday, August 8, 2014

My Hall of Fame Collection - 1951 Bowman #31 Roy Campanella

I recently opined on the twitter that "modern cards and prospecting are like one-night stands...vintage is true love."

I truly believe that and it appears that I am falling in love again thanks to this Campy! Introduce yourself, Roy...

I encountered a well-priced batch of graded '51 Bowman's on the Bay of E earlier this year. The Ryan's Pitch Collection welcomes all forms of vintage cardboard  - graded, non-graded, degraded, whatever the case may be - but my adrenal gland kicks in when a seller has numerous graded cards of players I really enjoy, at great prices, with combined shipping and (the kicker) a 'Make An Offer' option available.

I'm shy by nature and dislike the art of negotiation, but only because I wish I were better at it. And even when I decide to face this inner demon, the Bay is usually a hostile environment in which to attempt to do, particularly in the card market. Sellers are there to profit and the Bay is known to be full of buyers that are short of hobby knowledge but accompanied by deep pockets. This produces a beneficial equation for the sellers and gives them little reason to suffer through the entertainment of an offer from a spendthrift like me.

But this was true vintage love, you see....the stuff miracles are made of!

I quickly checked PSA's SMR database to ensure that my eyes were not deceiving me and formulated an offer amount on this Campy along with a few others. I wanted to cause deliberation without insulting and, after some quick emails, the Seller and I reached a mutually beneficial arrangement for the whole lot. I could barely contain my excitement then, and it persists today as I am very excited to share this particular card with you.

Campanella has a special place in the history of the game as one of its finest catchers, despite only playing for ten seasons. His Hall of Fame career, spent entirely with the Brooklyn Dodgers, was cut much too short due to a paralyzing injury suffered during a car accident in the winter of '58. Prior to that horrible twist of fate, Roy had earned a World Series ring (against my Yanks in '55), 3 National League MVP Awards, 8 All-Star appearances, led the league in RBI for a season and caught 3 no-hitters!  

"Campy" was one of the pioneers in breaking the color-barrier in baseball, joining Brooklyn during Jackie's sophomore campaign. He was one of the first four African-American players to appear in an All-Star Game, joining Robinson, Larry Doby and Don Newcombe. Yes, Roy, who passed away in 1993, holds a special place in the hearts of Dodgers and baseball fans in general, including myself. And now this card has joined him!

Where to start with this card?! It's pretty well centered and has excellent edges, two attributes that I really enjoy. The grade was most likely given for the corners, slight surface 'dent' in the upper right corner and border fading.

No problem.

A VG-EX "4" '51 Bowman is a GEM in my collection, any day of the week! The coloring of this card is amazing and the pose for this shot is baseball perfection. From my humble sampling, action shots appear to have been few and far between for '51 Bowman, so this look at Campanella tossing his old-school catcher's mask aside while he focuses on a pop-up is a real treat! How about that catcher's gear, though? I know many of you enjoy catcher's cards in particular and it's easy to see why. The chest protector, knee pads and backwards ball cap..... great coloring. Even the background calls your attention! The vivid green stadium seats in the background provide a very 'you are there' experience, enhanced by the depth perception provided through the stadium's deepening shadows as our eyes follow up into the stands......can anybody confirm if these green seats indicate Ebbets Field?

And who's that guy? Why only one spectator, a spectator wearing a mustard-colored shirt and sunglasses?    

Well focused.......the player and the card!

The back only adds to my enjoyment of this card, offering Bowman's traditional and simple approach: name, bio-stats, brief summary, card number. In 1951, he was coming off his third season in which he had surpassed the 30 HR mark (31) and approached 90 RBI (89) while batting .285. Bowman mentions that Roy held a .985 fielding percentage in 1949...he matched that in 1950 and would never drop below that mark for the duration of his career.

The back is in great shape, with no paper loss or markings to interfere with enjoyment of the information. The coloring is great, too.....just an all around great card, condition-wise. Interestingly, the write-up mentions that the Dodgers first noticed Campy when playing against him in an exhibition game. Hmmm, I wonder what the story is behind that statement? Well, as usual with the game we all love, here's the tale, according to SABR:

"In October 1945 Campanella caught for a black all-star team organized by Effa Manley against a squad of major leaguers managed by Charlie Dressen in a five-game exhibition series at Ebbets Field. Dressen, a Dodgers coach at the time, approached Campanella to arrange a meeting with Dodgers general manager and part-owner Branch Rickey later that month. Campanella spent four hours listening to Rickey, whom he later described as “the talkingest man I ever did see,” and politely declined when Rickey asked if he was interested in playing in the Brooklyn organization. Campy thought he was being recruited for the Brooklyn Brown Dodgers, a new Negro League outfit that Rickey was supposedly starting. A few days later, however, he ran into Jackie Robinson in a Harlem hotel. After Robinson confidentially told him he’d already signed with the Dodgers, Campy realized that Rickey had been talking about a career in Organized Baseball for him. Afraid that he’d blown his shot at the big leagues, he fired off a telegram to Rickey indicating his interest in playing for the Dodgers just before he left on a barnstorming tour through South America."    

Like I always say, all baseball cards are great pieces of history. Some have great players while others have great stories. And some, like this '51 Campanella, just seem to have both. I've only touched on the very tip of the iceberg that was Roy's contribution to the game and to the world, but this is a great way to start a conversation that I hope continues for a long time. I can't wait to add more of Campy's cardboard to my collection and learn more about his legacy, but I'll never lose my excitement and love for this card. I am thrilled to add it to my collection and could easily file this one under the "One of My Favorite Cards" title.

Either way - here's to you, Roy. Rest in peace and thank you for this walk into history.

Thanks for reading!


  1. Wow! Beautiful card. I hope to add one to my collection one day.

  2. Excellent score! One of my absolute favorite Campys.

  3. You stumbled across quite a haul there. '51 Bowmans rule.

  4. Nice. That card is beautiful!