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As star players for the 1955 World Champion Brooklyn Dodgers, and prior to that as the first black players to be candidates to break professional baseball’s color barrier, Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella would seem to be natural allies. But the two men were divided by a rivalry going far beyond the personality differences and petty jealousies of competitive teammates. Behind the bitterness were deep and differing beliefs about the fight for civil rights.
Robinson, the more aggressive and intense of the two, thought Jim Crow should be attacked head-on; Campanella, more passive and easygoing, believed that ability, not militancy, was the key to racial equality. Drawing on interviews with former players such as Monte Irvin, Hank Aaron, Carl Erskine, and Don Zimmer, Jackie and Campy offers a closer look at these two players and their place in a historical movement torn between active defiance and passive resistance. William C. Kashatus deepens our understanding of these two baseball icons and civil rights pioneers and provides a clearer picture of their time and our own.
Rather than rehashing the titanic myths of two African-American baseball pioneers, Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella, Kashatus, a sportswriter , delves into the internal landscape of these men instead of the incredible achievements on the field. The courageous exploits of Robinson for the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field, according to the author, inspired Martin Luther. King Jr.'s civil rights campaign as well as the 1954 Supreme Court Brown v. Board of Education. In a bold, assured narrative, Kashatus measures the pacesetters: "Where Robinson was overtly aggressive and intense, Campanella was more passive and easygoing." While Robinson's militancy and outspokenness aggravated some players, pundits, and owners, Campy's optimism and good-will made him very likable as he became a seven-time All-Star catcher, winning five pennants. If Robinson, who was the 1947 Rookie of the Year and played on seven pennant-winning Dodger clubs, supported the civil rights protests, Campy felt the violence would stop if blacks "stopped pressing too far too fast," and that conflict between the men led to a public spat resulting in a parting of the ways for nearly 10 years. Using their racial and social attitudes as a springboard, Kashatus has written a superb narrative of sports, race, and politics in the 1950s and '60s, and also tells of the bittersweet consequences in Jackie and Campy's lives Robinson's death at 53 and Campanella's paralysis.