Meet the first ever Rolaids Relief Man of the Year award winner – Bill “Soup” Campbell
William Richard Campbell (Soup) was born in Highland Park, Michigan on August 9, 1948 but grew up in the Panoma, California area. Campbell attended junior college after graduating from high school but left school in order to earn some money for a 4 year program. But sometimes the best laid plans change, Uncle Sam called and before he knew it Campbell was in the Army (1968-1970) and on his way to Viet Nam. As far as I can determine, Campbell is the only player in Minnesota Twins history to have actual combat experience when he served as a radio operator in Viet Nam in 1968-1969. After leaving the service, Bill was signed as an amateur free agent pitcher by the Twins in September of 1970 and started his professional career in “A” ball in 1971 with Wisconsin Rapids. In 1972 the 6’3″ right-hander was moved up to “AA” Charlotte and in 1973 he started the season in AAA Tacoma going 10-5 before being called up by the Minnesota Twins in July. In his three minor league seasons Campbell was used strictly as starter (with just one exception in 1971) but the Twins had different plans for Campbell. Bill made his major league debut in relief of Jim Kaat at Met Stadium on July 14, 1973 throwing one scoreless inning allowing one hit and striking out two Cleveland Indian batters. Once Campbell reached the big leagues with the Twins he never pitched in the minor leagues again. “Soup” pitched in 28 games for the Twins in 1973 posting a 3-3 mark and a nice 3.18 ERA. Campbell started two games that season but neither start was much to write home about. In 1974 Campbell pitched in relief in all 63 games that he appeared in and had a slick 2.62 ERA in 120.1 innings while winning 8, losing 7, and saving 19 games. In 1975 Campbell got off to a slow start after tweaking his arm in spring training and the Twins shuffled Bill between the bullpen and the starting rotation. Campbell started 7 games that season pitching two complete games and one of those was an 8-0 shutout of Billy Martin’s Texas Rangers in game 1 of a doubleheader at Met Stadium on the 4th of July. In 1976 Gene Mauch took over as the Twins skipper and told Campbell that he would be his closer. What a phenomenal year Campbell had, he led the league in pitching appearances with 78 and winning percentage (.773) while pitching 167.2 innings as he notched 20 saves and had a 17-5 won/lost record. When the season ended and the awards were handed out, Campbell finished 7th in the Cy Young voting and 8th in MVP voting. On November 1, 1976 Campbell became a free agent and a few days later (November 6) became the first free agent to sign with a new team under the new 1976 collective bargaining agreement which for the first time gave players the right to become free agents. Campbell signed what was then a huge four-year contract with the Boston Red Sox for $1 million.
In his first year with the Red Sox in 1977 Campbell went 13-9 with a 2.96 ERA and led the league in saves with 31 and made the All-Star team. Campbell pitched for the Red Sox from 1977-1981 before he again became a free agent and this time he signed with the Chicago Cubs where he pitched in 1982-1983 before the Cubs traded him to the Phillies in March of 1984. The following spring Campbell was again traded, this time to the St. Louis Cardinals where Campbell in his 13th big league season finally got a chance to pitch in the playoffs and the 1985 World Series. Campbell pitched for Detroit Tigers in 1986 and briefly for the Montreal Expos in 1987 before calling it a career. Bill also pitched in the Senior Professional Baseball Association in 1989 and 1990 before the league folded. Campbell was also one of a number of baseball players that were swindled by “super agent” LaRue Harcourt who put his clients in tax shelters and other investments that he freely described as “high-leverage things.” According to a number of articles, Campbell lost as much as $800K in his dealing with Harcourt. Sports Illustrated did a piece on Harcourt and some of the players that were impacted in October of 1987 in a story called “at Times You Flat Cry.”
In his 15 big league seasons and 700 games Bill Campbell had a 3.54 ERA with 126 Saves and a won/lost record of 83-68. Campbell threw a fastball and a curve but his screwball was his out pitch. You could make a case that Campbell was a bit on the wild side as he had a 3.6 BB/9 ratio but he also had a 6.3 SO/9 ratio and he only gave up 1,139 hits in 1229.1 innings. Campbell was a real work horse out of the bullpen, out of his 700 games he started just 9 times and yet he pitched 100 or more innings in 6 of his 15 big league seasons. Bill Campbell is 9th on the Twins all-time save’s list with 51. Campbell was the first winner of the Rolaids Relief Man of the Year award in the American League that was started in 1976 and he also won the award in 1977. Campbell also won the Sporting News Reliever of the Year award in 1976 and 1977. Campbell is the only pitcher in MLB history to record at least 17 wins and 17 saves in the same season when he won 17 and saved 20 in 1976 wearing a Twins uniform. Only Pittsburgh Pirates reliever Roy Face had a season with more wins without a start when he had 18-1 record in 1959. Campbell also served on the Milwaukee Brewers coaching staff in 1999.
Today Bill Campbell is retired and enjoying life with his family in the Chicago, Illinois area.
This interview with Bill Campbell took place in November 2012 and is 33 minutes in length.