- April 23, 1907
- 5' 10"
- 185 lbs
- Major League Debut:
- 9-09-1933 with CHN
- Allstar Selections:
- 1941 MVP
A top slugger and run-producer for both the Philadelphia Phillies and Brooklyn Dodgers, Dolph Camilli finished in the top four in the National League in home runs eight straight times from 1935 to 1942. The powerful first baseman also placed among the league leaders in RBIs in each of those seasons, topping the senior circuit in both offensive categories in 1941, when he captured league MVP honors by leading the Dodgers to their first pennant since 1920. A solid defensive player as well, Camilli led all National League first basemen in putouts twice, and in assists and fielding percentage once each.
Born in San Francisco, California on April 23, 1907, Adolph Louis Camilli spent eight long years in the minor leagues before finally being called up by the Chicago Cubs late in 1933. Blocking Camilli’s path to the majors that entire time was Charlie Grimm, who served as Chicago’s starting first baseman from 1925 to 1933, before also taking over the managerial reins of the team in 1932. Camilli made his major league debut with the Cubs on September 9, 1933, some three years after his older brother, who fought under the name Frankie Campbell, died of cerebral hemorrhaging following a match with future heavyweight champion Max Baer. Camilli batted .224 over the season’s final three weeks, driving in seven runs and hitting his first two big-league homers.
Camilli spent the first two months of the 1934 campaign in Chicago, splitting time at first base with Grimm. However, after Camilli batted .275 and knocked in 19 runs in 120 official at bats with the team, the Cubs elected to trade him to the Phillies for fellow first baseman Don Hurst. Inserted at first base full time upon his arrival in Philadelphia, Camilli finished his first full season in the majors with 16 home runs, 87 runs batted in, and a .267 batting average. The free-swinging Camilli also set a new National League record by striking out 113 times. The 28-year-old first baseman established himself as one of the National League’s top sluggers the following year, when he hit 25 home runs, knocked in 83 runs, scored 88 others, and batted .261, while appearing in all 156 games for the Phillies.
It was in 1936, though, that Camilli developed into a complete hitter. The Philadelphia first baseman batted .315, scored 106 runs, and finished in the league’s top five with 28 home runs, 102 runs batted in, 13 triples, 116 walks, 306 total bases, a .441 on-base percentage, and a .577 slugging percentage. Although injuries limited Camilli to 131 games the following year, he again placed among the league leaders with 27 home runs, 80 RBIs, 101 runs scored, and a .587 slugging percentage, while batting a career-high .339 and topping the circuit with a .446 on-base percentage.
Despite Camilli’s standout season, the Phillies decided to trade him to the Dodgers prior to the start of the 1938 campaign. New Brooklyn general manager Larry MacPhail hoped to transform the Dodgers from lovable losers into a contending team, and he viewed the acquisition of Camilli as the first step in that process. The first baseman responded by hitting 24 homers, driving in 100 runs, and scoring 106 runs. Although his batting average fell to .251, he led the National League with 119 walks, enabling him to compile a very respectable .393 on-base percentage.
Camilli’s powerful left-handed bat was suited perfectly for Brooklyn’s cozy Ebbets Field. The muscular 5’10”, 185-pound first baseman had a ferocious swing that often drove balls over the ballpark’s right field screen onto Bedford Avenue. Dodger manager Leo Durocher later recalled, ''Camilli was a quiet, gentle man, but he was strong as an ox.'' He also had surprisingly soft hands, finishing among the league’s top five first basemen in putouts in eight of his nine full seasons.
Camilli continued his outstanding slugging in 1939, placing among the league leaders with 26 home runs, 104 runs batted in, 105 runs scored, 12 triples, a .409 on-base percentage, and a .524 slugging percentage. He also batted .290 and led the National League in walks for the second straight season, with a total of 110. Camilli’s fine performance earned him his first selection to the All-Star Team and a 12th place finish in the league MVP voting.
After a solid 1940 campaign, Camilli reached the apex of his career the following season when he led the Dodgers to their first pennant in 21 years. Brooklyn’s newly-named captain led the National League with 34 home runs and 120 runs batted in, scored 92 runs, batted .285, and surpassed 100 walks for the fourth and final time in his career, en route to beating out teammate Pete Reiser for league MVP honors. Camilli’s fine season ended on a sour note, though, when the Dodgers lost the World Series to the Yankees in five games. The first baseman knocked in only one run and batted just .167 in his only appearance in the Fall Classic.
Camilli had another productive year in 1942, finishing second in the National League with 26 home runs and 109 runs batted in. Over the course of the season, he broke Zack Wheat’s club record of 131 career home runs.
After Camilli started off the 1943 slowly, new Brooklyn general manager Branch Rickey traded him to the Giants as he began to part ways with several of the team’s higher-priced veteran players as more and more major leaguers entered the military to serve in World War II. The 36-year-old first baseman refused to report to the Dodgers’ hated rivals, though, stating years later, “'I hated the Giants. This was real serious; this was no put-on stuff. Their fans hated us, and our fans hated them….I said nuts to them, and I quit.''
Camilli chose instead to spend the next two years managing the Pacific Coast League’s Oakland Oaks, before joining the Boston Red Sox midway through the 1945 campaign. He spent the remainder of the year in Boston, batting just .212, with only two home runs and 19 runs batted in, before announcing his retirement at season’s end. Camilli finished his career with 239 home runs, 950 runs batted in, 936 runs scored, a .277 batting average, and an excellent .388 on-base percentage. He hit more than 20 home runs in eight of his nine full seasons, knocked in more than 100 runs five times, scored more than 100 runs four times, and batted over .300 twice. Camilli earned two All-Star selections and placed in the top 10 in the league’s MVP voting on two separate occasions. His 961 career strikeouts placed him third on the all-time list at the time of his retirement, behind only Babe Ruth (1,330) and Jimmie Foxx (1,311).
After retiring from the game as an active player, Camilli managed in the minor leagues and also served as a scout for both the Phillies and the Yankees. He died in San Mateo, California on October 21, 1997, at the age of 90.