The Legacy of Frankie Campbell
When the movie Cinderella Man came out in the Summer of 2005, audiences from all over the world were introduced to boxer Maz Baer, a brutish figure who seemingly enjoyed killing a man in the ring. That man, Frankie Campbell, may have lived a short life but he left a legacy for others in his family to follow. Both his brother Dolph and his nephew Doug played professional baseball, forever trying to honor his legacy. This is their story.
Francesco Camilli was born in either April or May of 1904 in Hibbing, Minnesota. His family soon moved to San Francisco where his brother, Dolph, was born in April of 1907. Very little is known about his early years but somewhere along the way, Francesco became enamored with boxing. When he became an adult, Francesco became a professional boxer, going by the name "Frankie Campbell". By 1930, he was a contender for the heavy weight title after winning 33 of 40 fights. On August 24, 1930, Frankie faced Max Baer at San Francisco's Recreation Park. Baer was knocked down early in the 2nd round which lit a fire under his legendary anger. He swung furiously and Campbell went down in the 5th round. He never woke up and passed away the following day.
Dolph looked onward at the funeral, overcome with the grief one feels when a loved one unexpectedly passes away. Many individuals need an outlet for their grief and the graduate of San Francisco's Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory had an outlet for his grief, baseball. While he was still trying to prove himself in the minor leagues, he began to work harder at his craft as a first baseman in hopes of honoring his brother's legacy.
Three years later, Dolph made his debut as a major league first baseman for the Chicago Cubs. In 16 games, he hit two home runs and averaged .224, buying some time to prove himself to the organization. The following year, his first full season in the majors, he led the National League with 94 strikeouts while splitting time between the Cubs and the Philadelphia Phillies. He performed even better in 1935 when he led both leagues with 113 strikeouts.
Despite Dolph's shortcomings at the plate, he began an eight-year streak of 23 or more homeruns. After being traded to the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1938, Camilli was invited to his first All Star Game the next year after hitting 26 home runs and driving in 104 scores. He recorded his best season in 1941 when he led the league in home runs (34) and RBI (120), earning the NL MVP. The Dodgers won the National League that year but fell to the New York Yankees in the World Series where Camilli averaged .167. It would be his last season as an All Star. He retired from the Boston Red Sox in 1945.
But Frankie Campbell's legacy wasn't over just yet. Dolph's son Doug (born in September of 1936 in Philadelphia) would become a major league catcher in 1960 for the Dodgers, who now resided in Los Angeles, after playing for Santa Rosa High School and Stanford University. After splitting nine years between the Dodgers and Washington Senators, Doug Camilli retired following the 1969 season with 18 home runs and a .199 lifetime batting average. Along the way, he won two World Series titles as he became one of Sandy Koufax's most trustworthy catchers. The highlight of his career was catching the third of the great catcher's four career no-hitters on June 4, 1964 against the Phillies.
After Doug Camilli retired in 1969, he began a long coaching career, culminating in stints managing minor league teams in Greensboro and Winter Haven. His father, Dolph, passed away on October 22, 1997 in San Mateo, California, not too far from where it all began.