In 137 years of play, the Phillies have racked up more than a few what-ifs. What if Chico Ruiz doesn't steal home in 1964? What if Danny Ozark replaces Greg Luzinski for defense on Black Friday 1977? What if the Phillies protect George Bell in the Rule 5 draft? What if they don't trade Ferguson Jenkins? Or Ryne Sandberg?
What if Michael Martinez doesn't catch that ball in deep center field that 2011 night in Atlanta and the St. Louis Cardinals don't make the postseason? What if Chase Utley's knees don't go bad and Ryan Howard doesn't blow out his Achilles tendon? There are many, many more.
Over the next few days, we'll explore a few of the moments and events that may have flown under the radar but still make you ask: what if? Join us in our trip to an alternate Phillies universe ...
Every time I visit Dodger Stadium, my baseball-loving subconscious lures me to the hallway behind home plate that separates the home clubhouse area from the visiting clubhouse area. The hallway is filled with trophies — Cy Young Awards, MVPs, Gold Gloves — and pictures and I always make sure to take my time and soak it all in. Without fail, every time I walk through that hallway on my way to the visiting clubhouse, I spend more time looking at one award, one picture than others. I look at Roy Campanella and his round, smiling face and think, 'Wow. He could have been a Phillie. He should have been a Phillie.'
Campanella is the subject of today's trip into an alternate Phillies universe.
A quick history lesson: Roy Campanella was a Philadelphia native. He was one of the Boys of Summer, as they called the collection of hard-luck Brooklyn Dodgers that finally got over the hump and beat the New York Yankees in the 1955 World Series. He was one of the greatest catchers in the history of the game, short and rugged with catlike reflexes, a rocket arm and a knack for calling a game. (Johnny Podres shook him off just once in his Game 7 shutout in the '55 Series.)
Campy played 10 seasons in the majors and was an All-Star in eight of them. He belted more than 30 homers four times and 20 or more seven times. He was named National League MVP three times. He's a Hall of Famer.
Before becoming a Brooklyn Dodger, Campanella was a Negro Leagues star with the Baltimore Elite Giants. He was so talented that he began playing professionally at age 15 — when he was still a student at Simon Gratz High School — and had logged a decade in pro ball before he even debuted with the Dodgers at age 26.
Campanella was raised in the Nicetown section of Philadelphia, not far from where Shibe Park/Connie Mack Stadium stood. He used to watch games from the rooftops across the street.
And in July 1945, he watched one from the seats.
Campanella tells the story in his autobiography, It's Good to be Alive. His Baltimore team had a day off so he decided to go to a Phillies game with his sister, Doris. They arrived during batting practice when few people were in the ballpark. The manager of the Phillies in those days was a guy named Hans Lobert and he knew who Campanella was. Everybody in baseball did because word travels — it knows no color barrier — and by 1945, Campy was an established star. So on that summer day at Shibe Park, Campanella wandered down toward the field, exchanged pleasantries with Lobert and asked for a tryout.
"You could use a catcher and I'm a good catcher," Campanella told Lobert. "I can help this club."
Lobert agreed that Campanella would look good in a Phillies uniform. He urged Campanella to call club president Gerry Nugent and see what he said about the possibility. So Campanella, from a payphone right there in Shibe Park, phoned upstairs to Nugent, who, like Lobert, knew all about Campanella and how good he was.
With regret in his voice, Nugent thanked Campanella for his interest and said there was nothing he could do because of the "unwritten rule" that barred African Americans from the major leagues.
Disappointed, Campanella hung up the phone, bought a hot dog and a soda and headed back to his seat.
"Maybe one day …" he said to himself.
One day ended up coming sooner than Campanella could have envisioned. Up the road in Brooklyn, groundbreaking Dodgers executive Branch Rickey was already plotting strategy to end baseball's color barrier. He signed Jackie Robinson to a minor-league contract in 1946 and brought him to the majors in April 1947. Campanella followed a similar path and debuted in the majors a year later. He spent a decade reminding the Phillies what they could have had. His 43 homers and .933 OPS against the Phils were the best marks of his career against any club.
Phillies management in those days just did not have the guts to do what Rickey did. But it wasn't just the Phillies. Campanella, like Robinson and others, was denied other tryouts from other teams because of the color of his skin. Thankfully, the barriers eventually came down and those MVP awards — Robinson has one, too — now adorn the hallway outside the clubhouse at Dodger Stadium.
Three MVP awards.
That's rare air.
Barry Bonds won seven MVPs.
No one else has won more than three.
The list of three-time winners includes Jimmie Foxx, Joe DiMaggio, Stan Musial, Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle, Mike Schmidt, Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez, Mike Trout and Campanella, who died in 1993.
If only he had gotten that chance with his hometown team. Roy Campanella would have been a teammate of Richie Ashburn and Del Ennis and Robin Roberts. He would have been one of the greatest and most popular Phillies ever ...
In an alternate universe.