Thursday, March 24, 2011

Campanella biography doesn't disappoint

A seat belt. The simple safety device we take for granted today might have allowed three-time MVP Roy Campanella to walk away from the wreck that altered his life in January 1958. The car, a rented Chevrolet sedan, survived the collision with minimal damage. But seat-belt use wasn't the standard of the day, and seat belts were optional in most vehicles of the era.

The crash itself could easily have been avoided. Had Campy been home in bed at 3:34 a.m., instead of returning from a late-night rendezvous with a still-unidentified woman, he would have made the transition to Los Angeles that spring with the rest of his Dodgers teammates. The hour, more than the weather conditions cited by Campanella when he talked about the accident the rest of his life, likely did him in. In his new book Campy: The Two Lives of Roy Campanella, Neil Lanctot cites speculation that the Hall of Fame catcher fell asleep at the wheel shortly before his car slammed into a telephone pole.

In addition to the car accident, Lanctot does a terrific job of detailing each of Campanella's 10 big league seasons without getting repetitive (a challenge all baseball biographers face—and many struggle with), even as he winds through several injury-plagued disappointments at the end of his career. We had plenty of good baseball biographies last year, and Campy picks right up where those left off. For more, see my full review, now available on BaseballAmerica.com.

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