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Catcher Ellis honored with Campanella Award

Catcher Ellis honored with Campanella Award

Catcher Ellis honored with Campanella Award
SAN DIEGO -- A.J. Ellis put into perspective what it means to be named winner of the seventh annual Roy Campanella Award, given to the Dodgers player who best exemplifies the spirit and leadership of the late Hall of Fame catcher.

"Outside of a World Series ring, this is as special as any award can be, because it's voted by the guys in the room," said Ellis, announced as winner on Wednesday.

"It's definitely a humbling day for me personally. For them to choose me means the world to me, with all the worthy candidates. It's really a special moment."

The award, which was voted upon by Dodgers uniform personnel, will be presented to Ellis by Campanella's daughter, Joni Campanella Roan, during pregame ceremonies Sunday.

"He was the first in a line of great Dodgers catchers," said Ellis, who never met Campanella. "He set the tone for backstops in the Dodgers organization being a special position. I heard stories from Rick Monday, about Tommy [Lasorda] having Campy giving the first talk in Spring Training. He was soft-spoken but carried a lot of weight. Steve Yeager also shared stories."

Matt Kemp won last year's award. Previous winners are Jamey Carroll, Juan Pierre, James Loney, Russell Martin and Rafael Furcal.

In his first full season as the starting catcher, the 31-year-old Ellis has appeared in 125 games behind the plate, fourth-most among Major League catchers. He belted his first career grand slam Aug. 29 against the Rockies at Coors Field and had his first career multi-homer game Aug. 3.

Always known for his solid defense and game management skills, Ellis has a 3.37 catcher's ERA, lowest in the game for catchers with at least 100 games caught.

Offensively, Ellis has provided a rare combination of patience and pitch selection for 62 walks, plus unexpected power. He has 11 home runs, more than he ever had in any of his eight professional seasons. In three of those seasons, he had zero homers.

An 18th-round Draft pick in 2003 out of Austin Peay State University, where he was inducted into the school's Hall of Fame, Ellis and wife Cindy have been active in the community. They have read to Glendale, Ariz., schoolchildren as a part of the Read Across America celebration during Spring Training and supported teammates' charities by attending Clayton Kershaw's Texas Hoedown and Dodgers Dream Foundation Bowling Extravaganza.

Campanella was a three-time National League Most Valuable Player (1951, 1953, and 1955), eight-time All-Star, and a member of the 1955 World Series championship team. He played in five World Series and his 142 RBIs in 1953 set a franchise record, since surpassed by Tommy Davis (153 in 1962). In 1,215 career games during a 10-year career, all with the Dodgers, he batted .276 with 242 home runs and 856 RBIs.

He began his career in the Negro Leagues, establishing himself as one of the top catchers in the league before joining the Dodgers organization in 1946. Campanella played for Class B Nashua of the New England League, making that club the first integrated affiliated baseball team in the United States.

On Jan. 29, 1958, just as the Dodgers were making final preparations for their move to Los Angeles, Campanella was involved in a tragic car accident that paralyzed him from the neck down, marking the end of his playing career. On May 7, 1959, a Major League record-setting 93,103 fans filled the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on "Roy Campanella Night" for an exhibition game between the Dodgers and Yankees.

He was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1969 and was among the first three Dodgers to have their uniform numbers retired alongside Jackie Robinson and Sandy Koufax. Campanella remained active in the Dodgers' community relations department until his passing on June 26, 1993, at the age of 71.

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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