Ty Cobb once said, in the early 1950s: “Roy Campanella is the “player who reminds me most of myself.” Cobb held Mickey Cochrane—his 1927-28 Philadelphia Athletics teammates—in high esteem, placing him on a mythical All-Star team of players he faced or played with. Moe Berg, the catcher “who was a [World War II] spy,” was a good friend of Cobb; so was Cochrane. Cobb opined that Campanella “was a great catcher with the good sense to play as close to the plate as he could; catch the ball before it broke away, and get his pitcher more strikes.” These Ty Cobb opinions were included in the  best book on Cobb ever written—Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty, by Charles Leerhsen, who dispels a lot of untruths and fabrications about the studious Cobb, who made last-second adjustments at the plate, depending on the type of pitch thrown and pitcher idiosyncrasies. Cobb respected Campanella’s know-how and the way “Campy” studied opposing hitters, just like he once kept meticulous records on opposing AL hurlers, 1905-1928.
Roy Campanella, Legend in Puerto Rico, Mexico and Venezuela
Campanella’s successful 10-year career with the 1948-57 Brooklyn Dodgers was preceded by valuable years with the Baltimore Elite Giants, teams in Puerto Rico, Mexico and Venezuela. On April 6, 1941, a 19-year old Campanella, playing for the Caguas Criollos in the league finals, drilled a long grand slam off Luis Raúl Cabrera, Santurce’s ace pitcher. It came in Caguas’s home-fifth inning, with Santurce nursing a 2-1 lead. When he crossed home plate, his teammates rushed to him and hoisted the hero on their shoulders. Caguas’s excited fans took advantage of the lull to put dollar bills in Campy’s hand. The homer broke Santurce’s back. Before the damage was done, Caguas scored 14 runs; they won the series. Campanella returned to Caguas in 1941-42; played for Santurce (1944-45) and San Juan (1946-47). In 457 regular season AB, he posted a .276 AVG with 11 HR and 39 RBIs (excluding unavailable RBIs, 1940-41 season.) Campy’s eight regular season HR in 1940-41 were good for a first-place tie with Mayagüez’s Buck Leonard. Campy, at 19, was the youngest player to ever lead the Puerto Rico Semi-Pro League, or tie for this Winter League’s lead, in HR.
Campy’s 1942 and 1943 summer seasons with Monterrey Industriales kept him playing under Cuban skipper Lázaro Salazar. It was a strong Independent League, with Monte Irvin playing for the 1942 Veracruz Azules; Martín Dihigo, player-manager for the Torreón Algodoneros in 1942 and 1943. (Dihigo was 22-7 with a league-leading 2.53 ERA and league-best 211 strikeouts for 1942 first-place 48-40 Torreón.) Monterrey was 46-41, second, in 1942; then, 53-37 (first) in 1943, edging 51-36 Torreón by a half-game. Campanella caught Daniel “La Coyota” Ríos—perhaps the best pitcher from Mexico in the 1940s and first-half of the 1950s; Ríos won 20 games in 1943. Campy learned from Bill Wright (Mexico City) and Ray Dandridge (Veracruz), in terms of how they played the game. One of Campy’s favorite teammates was Monterrey RHP Vidal López, “El Muchachote de Barlovento,” who he knew from [1941-42] Puerto Rico when Caguas played López’s Santurce club, one with Josh Gibson behind the plate. By 1943, Campanella spoke Spanish well, something Ríos and the Venezuelan Vidal López—with a 1943 league-leading ERA of 2.08—appreciated very much.
Miguel Dupouy Gómez has chronicled the November 24-December 23, 1945 barnstorming games between the American All Stars, featuring Jackie Robinson, Buck Leonard, Campanella, among others, at: http://beisbolinmortal.blogspot.com/2019/08/las-estrellas-americanas-visitan.html
Campanella posted a .262 AVG for the 7-2 All Stars, excluding a five-game sweep of Cervecería Caracas, in the title series. Estrellas del Caribe was the other series participant. And Campanella remained in Venezuela to play for the Sabios de Vargas, January 1946, in that country’s first pro baseball season. He batted .358 with a .604 SLG in 12 games for Vargas, the league champion at 18-12. Roy Welmaker (12-8) was the club’s best pitcher; Carlos Ascanio, Sam Jethroe and Marvin Williams were some top hitters. Campanella replaced Daniel Canónico as Vargas skipper. Campy rejoined Vargas for the 1947-48 winter season, as player-manager, for a 24-15 (runner-up) team. He played in 40 games (one was a tie), with a .336 AVG and .552 SLG; five HR, 21 RBIs and eight SB. Campy’s two pro seasons in Venezuela included 52 games, 187 AB, 42 runs, 64 hits, 15 doubles, three triples, seven HR, 34 RBIs, eight SB, .342 AVG and .567 SLG. He was “ready” for an impressive 10-year “run” as Brooklyn’s catcher, 1948-to-1957.
Record of Roy Campanella in Puerto Rico https://beisbol101.com/roy-campanella/
Thurman Munson’s 1969-70 Season: San Juan Senators
Munson, born in Akron, Ohio, June 7, 1947, impressed the New York Yankees ownership and scouts, with a second-best .333 AVG for San Juan (76 hits/228 AB), only trailing Caguas’s Félix Millán’s .345 mark. José A. Pagán of Caguas was third at .321; then, Santurce’s Tony Pérez, .313; and Ponce’s Santos “Sandy” Alomar Sr., with a .311 AVG. Coincidentally, RF Roberto Clemente’s .296 AVG for San Juan was second on the team to Munson. Ellis “Cot” Deal managed Munson that winter, and felt it “was a turning point” in Munson’s preparation for a very fine AL career. José Manuel Morales, Munson’s back-up with San Juan (and Johnny Bench’s 1967-68 San Juan back-up), opined that “Munson had all the tools to be a Cooperstown Hall of Famer,” but “less HR power than Bench.” Munson had three HR and 34 RBIs with San Juan, plus 11 doubles and three triples, for a .447 SLG. He scored 36 runs. José “Palillo” Santiago called Munson “another great receiver with San Juan,” two seasons after he pitched to Bench. San Juan (33-36) finished fifth of six teams, 1969-70, missing the playoffs by one game. LF Lee May and CF José Cardenal were two of Munson’s teammates. Catching LHP Miguel Cuéllar’s screwball was a good experience for Munson, whose SABR bio by Jimmy Keenan and Frank Russo is at https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/53cf0c87.
Record of Thurman Munson in Puerto Rico https://beisbol101.com/thurman-munson/
Munson’s Cooperstown Credentials
Blogs have addressed Munson’s positives and negatives for a Cooperstown induction. Per Chris Haft, Munson never received more than 15.5 percent of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) votes; and this was for 1981, following his untimely passing at age 32, August 2, 1979.
https://www.mlb.com/news/thurman-munson-modern-era-hall-of-fame-case. Munson was a candidate on the Modern Baseball Era Ballot (1970-to-1987), but Ted Simmons, to be inducted in 2021, was the only catcher in recent memory to get a Cooperstown ticket via a committee. Table I compares Munson’s MLB regular season hitting statistics with Campanella and others, including Simmons.
Table I: Regular Season Hitting Stats, 15 MLB Catchers, including Campanella and Munson
# Elected by BBWAA—Campanella (1969), Berra (1972), Bench (1989), Fisk (2000), Carter (2003), Piazza (2016) and Rodríguez (2017). Pudge’s 2,844 career hits are the most by a catcher. ## Still active.
### Elected by 1970-to-1987 Era Committee, class of 2021 (2020 ceremony was cancelled).
Munson was 1970 AL Rookie of the Year, a 1976 AL MVP Award winner (.302 AVG, 17 HR, 105 RBIs, recipient of three Gold Gloves, 3x 100 plus RBIs (1975-77) and 7x AL All-Star. Ralph Houk, his first Yankees manager, managed the 1956-57 San Juan Senators when future Yankee Johnny Blanchard caught for them. Elston Howard played LF for the 1954-55 San Juan ballclub. Munson’s strong points include his 1976-78 post-season in the American League Championship Series (ALCS) and World Series (WS).
Munson, Campanella and Posey have 10 full MLB seasons to their credit and six WS crowns—Campanella (1955); Munson (1977-78); and Posey (2010, 2012 and 2014). Others listed have longer MLB careers. Jorge Posada played on four WS champs with the 1998-2000 and 2009 New York Yankees, but was not on the 1996 WS roster. Table II compares Munson’s post-season stats to 12 catchers. He has the highest post-season AVG (.357) and OPS (.874) of these 13 catchers. His .496 SLG is second to Bench’s .527 . When Bench retired post-1983 season, there had only been five catchers voted into Cooperstown by the BBWAA: Cochrane (1947) Dickey (1954), Hartnett (1955), Campanella and Berra.
Table II: Post-Season Hitting Stats, 13 MLB Catchers, 60 plus plate appearances
^Berra played in 14 WS; Campanella played in five WS; Munson was in three ALCS and three WS.
Campanella’s Well-Deserved Cooperstown Credentials
Campanella and Berra are the only MLB catchers with three MVP Awards each; in 1951, 1953 and 1955. Just eight other AL or NL position players won three or more MVP Awards. Campanella, born November 19, 1921, was 26 when he debuted for Brooklyn, in 1948. He made eight NL All-Star Teams, 1949-to-1956. His 41 HR (40 as a catcher) and 142 RBIs in 1953 were remarkable in a 154-game season. (Todd Hundley of the 1996 New York Mets hit 41 HR as a catcher; Javy López of Atlanta broke that single-season HR mark for catchers, with 42, as a catcher in 2003; Bench hit 45 HR in 1970, but 38 came when he caught.) Campy played his entire NL career post-integration, unlike Cochrane, Hartnett and other inductees. Campanella is the only catcher inducted in Cooperstown who played in the Negro Leagues; on three different championship teams in the Caribbean/Latin America (Puerto Rico, Mexico and Venezuela); and on a WS champion.
Campanella’s SABR bio by Rick Swaine is at: https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/a52ccbb5.
It notes that Campanella made the fewest major-league plate appearances of any Hall of Fame position player, and Bill James “rated Campy the third-best catcher of all time behind Berra and Bench; and ahead of Cochrane, Fisk, Dickey and Hartnett.” Bill James’ Hall of Fame Monitor (HOFM) leaders, state that the top three catchers in batting indicators are: Berra #33 overall with 227 points, followed by #35 Iván “Pudge” Rodríguez (226) and #40 Bench (214). However, Pudge Rodríguez’s 13 Gold Gloves and 45.7 percent for runners’ caught stealing (1991-to-2011) when the MLB caught stealing rate by catchers was just 30 percent; tougher MLB competition in Pudge’s 21 seasons than Berra’s 1946-63 and 1965 seasons and Bench’s 1967-to-1983 NL career, give Pudge the nod. Campanella’s HOFM was 108 and Munson’s HOFM was 90. Still-active Yadier Molina HOFM is 177 per Bill James—indicating Yadier has “very strong Cooperstown credentials.” But let us continue with Campanella, and then Munson’s highlights.
Offense, Defense and Shutting Down the Running Game
Wins Above Replacement (WAR), seven-year Peak WAR, JAWS (average of WAR and seven-year Peak WAR), offensive WAR (oWAR) defensive WAR (dWAR) come into play, plus caught stealing (CS) percent. More details are at: https://www.baseball-reference.com/leaders/jaws_C.shtml. Campanella played his 10-year NL home career at Ebbets Field, a hitter’s stadium. Munson played most of his home games at Yankee Stadium, except for 1974-75 at Shea Stadium, when the old Yankee Stadium was renovated. Munson “shut down” the Kansas City Royals running attack in 1976-78 ALCS games. By late July 1979, his injuries curtailed his catching, and he played 1B or was a DH, his last few AL games. Munson’s HOF chances diminished with strong candidates, early 1980s through mid-1990s, but his WAR7 of 37.0 compares favorably to Berra (38.0), Campanella (34.3), Fisk (37.6) and Simmons (34.8).
Table III: WAR, WAR7, JAWS, oWAR, dWAR, % CS and Ranking, 15 Major League Catchers
# Campanella is the all-time leader in CS % for catchers.
## Yadier Molina is the active leader in CS % for catchers.
### Pudge Rodríguez’s 45.7 CS % compares very favorably to a 30 CS % average in his era. His dWAR of 29.6 is the best-ever in MLB history for catchers, and eighth-best overall, all players.
Sixteen MLB HOF catchers, excluding Josh Gibson, Biz Mackey and Louis Santop, had a 53.6 career WAR, on average, along with a 34.8 seven-year peak WAR and 44.2 JAWS. Munson’s 37.0 seven-year peak WAR, and 44.5 percent CS of opponents’ baserunners, deserve notice. Chris Bodig’s November 6, 2019 blog nicely covers Munson’s case for another HOF chance at: https://www.cooperstowncred.com/does-thurman-munson-deserve-another-hall-of-fame-chance/. The 2,000 plus career hits for MLB catchers are a key BBWAA criterion post-1960, except in the case of Campanella, whose NL career started “late” for obvious reasons. Career hits by Pudge Rodríguez (2,844), Simmons (2,472), Fisk (2,356), Berra (2,150), Piazza (2,127), Carter (2,092) and Bench (2,048), make Munson’s future HOF chances quite slim.
This site—http://baseballegg.com/all-time-player-rankings/baseballs-greatest-catchers-of-all-time/–ranks Munson as the seventh-best MLB catcher of all-time, versus #8 Campanella, stating: “At his peak, Munson was better than Cochrane, Dickey and Berra…” Conversely, Ty Cobb was quoted: “Campanella will be remembered longer than any catcher in baseball history.”
Thanks to Ellis “Cot” Deal, José Manuel Morales and José “Palillo” Santiago for feedback on Thurman Munson’s 1969-70 season with the San Juan Senators. Miguel Dupouy Gómez facilitated informative data on Roy Campanella’s baseball career in Venezuela. Jorge Colón Delgado provided Puerto Rico regular season stats for Campanella and Munson.