Thursday, July 26, 2012

Could'a-been, should'a-been '58 Campy

As a seven-year-old card collector, besides the Milwaukee Braves' cards, some of the most eagerly anticipated cards in the 1958 Topps set were those of the Dodgers and Giants . . . the teams that had moved to California.

I wanted to see what some of my favorite "enemy" players looked like in their new uniforms: Mays, Hodges, Antonelli, Snider, Campanella.

I felt gypped (I know, no loner a p-c term) when all Topps gave us was pictures with new logos airbrushed on their caps.

As the season wore on, and new Topps series came and went without the appearance of a Roy Campanella card, I began to suspect that Topps had given up on Campy's chances to come back from that fateful auto wreck on Jan. 28.

After dinner that night, Campanella had left his Glen Cove, Long Island, home to drive to Manhattan for a television appearance. The appearance was postponed and Campanella drove on to his liquor store in Harlem. After closing up shop he was returning home in a rented 1957 Chevrolet about 3:30 a.m. when he failed to negotiate a curve and wrecked the car. 

Campanella broke his neck in the crash and was left paralyzed from the chest down.

Marshaling the power of wishful thinking, all of baseball hoped and prayed for Campy's recovery and return to the diamond. That never happened.

We got our Campanella card in 1959 Topps, a high-number titled "Symbol of Courage. The card pictures the fallen Dodgers star in a wheelchair. On back is an inspirational message over the signature of National League president Warren Giles. It was the first time Topps had issued such a "tribute" card. 

(A copy of that card is one of last vintage cards I added to my personal collection. I bought one in 2000, when I was confined to a wheelchair for several months, and feeling a special empathy for Campanella.)

Since 1961, Topps has included Campanella card in many, many sets. Companies like Fleer and Upper Deck also had Campy cards in some of their vintage-retro-throwback issues. And of course he appears on many collectors' issues from the 1970s onward.

There was a Roy Campanella card issued in 1958. Bell Brand chips issued a regional set to welcome the Dodgers to Los Angeles. The Campy card in that scarce set makes no mention of the accident. 

More than half a century later, we'll probably never know why Topps didn't issue a Campanella card in 1958. Unlike card #145 that was initially listed on the checklist as Ed Bouchee, but was never printed, Campanella's name didn't appear anywhere on the Topps checklists. Whomever made that decision correctly, but lamentably, concluded that Campanella wouldn't be playing for Los Angeles that season.

Perhaps Topps bigwigs also felt that producing some sort of tribute card in the 1958 set would send the wrong message . . . that Campanella was never coming back.

I've decided for my latest custom card project to create the 1958 Topps Roy Campanella card that never was. I present it herewith.

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