This article was written by Bill Nowlin
There was a possibility that first baseman Paul Campbell’s major-league career might last only one game and, at that, might have been without an at-bat. He was a pinch-runner for the Boston Red Sox in the first game of the 1941 season, on April 15. In the bottom of the seventh, the Red Sox were losing to the Washington Senators, 6-4, but the first two batters reached on back-to-back singles. Campbell went in as a pinch-runner for Stan Spence, the potentially tying run in the game. Dom DiMaggio grounded into a 4-6-3 double play and Campbell was erased. The Red Sox failed to score then, but pushed across three runs in the bottom of the ninth and won. With Jimmie Foxx and Tony Lupien as first basemen, it looked like they really didn’t need Campbell so they shipped him back to the minors. That was the last option they had; come 1942, they’d have to keep him on the big-league roster, move him, or release him. For 1941, he was placed with the Montreal Royals.
It had taken Campbell a while to reach the top. After he led his American Legion team to the North Carolina state championship and the national semifinals in 1934, Paul was offered a significant bonus to sign by Red Sox scout Billy Laval in 1934, less than a week before he turned 17 years old. He said he wanted to further his education first.1 Laval returned to Charlotte a few days later and met with Campbell’s father, Charles. It was agreed that Paul would go back to Brevard Junior College and then report to the Red Sox in the spring of 1935, at which time he would sign.2 That he did, for a “big cash bonus.”3
At the time, Campbell later recalled, “I was playing American Legion Junior Baseball with Charlotte in 1934. A Red Sox scout signed me then. They sent me to Danville, Virginia, in the Bi-State League in 1935 but I couldn’t stick, was released and played semipro ball the rest of that year. I signed again with Rocky Mount in Piedmont League and was sent to Danville again in 1936.”4 Jake Wade’s column in the April 30 Charlotte Observer explained how the officials at Danville saw a youngster who didn’t look to have what it would take to become a big-league prospect and cut him loose before learning that the Red Sox had invested in him.5
Campbell batted left-handed and threw left, was 5-feet-10 and eventually came to a playing weight of 185 pounds. He was, of course, less filled out as a teenager, weighing some 20 pounds less as late as 1939.
The first available statistics we have from Campbell’s pro career do indeed come from the 1936 Danville Leafs. It was Class-D baseball. He played first base and his .324 with 15 home runs in 112 games. Campbell was 18 years old, turning 19 on the first day of September.
Paul McLaughlin Campbell was born in 1917 (on September 1) in Paw Creek, Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. Paul was the first child of Charles and Fannie (Cooper) Campbell. Charles was an overseer at a cotton mill. A decade later, at the time of the 1930 census, the family was living in Charlotte and Charles was the manager of a grocery store. Younger sisters Mildred and Lorraine joined the family, four years separating each child. By 1940 Charles remained a grocer, owning his own store. The store wasn’t far from the ballpark where the Charlotte Hornets played and in 1929 former major leaguer (and Red Sox first baseman) Dick Hoblitzell became the team’s manager. Paul used to work helping out at the grocery store, “but once Hobby took the Charlotte club, Dad had his troubles getting me to do anything. In fact, if he wanted me for anything special, he only had to go to the ballpark, and there I was.”6 Campbell became the team’s batboy.
Paul attended the Hoskins School in Charlotte for eight years, then Paw Creek High School. He studied for two years at Weaver Junior College and Brevard Junior College, and – as we have seen – he was a professional baseball player by age 18.
In 1937 Campbell was advanced to Class B, with the Piedmont League’s Rocky Mount Red Sox. He hit two homers on Opening Day, and by season’s end had 10, and a .309 batting average in 135 games.
His 1938 season was with the Little Rock Travelers in the Class-A1 Southern Association. He upped his average to .330; his 192 hits led the league. His fielding was very good – a .987 fielding percentage at Rocky Mount and .988 at Little Rock.
Campbell trained with the Red Sox in spring training in 1939, and climbed another rung on the organizational ladder, assigned to the Double-A Louisville Colonels. Facing much stronger pitching, he held his own in the field (.992 fielding percentage, in 145 games and 1,435 chances) but struggled at the plate (his average dipping to .281). He was voted MVP on the Colonels. The Colonels won the Little World Series over Rochester of the International League.
“Paul’s size is against him,” observed Red Sox catcher-coach Moe Berg in the spring of 1940, “but he does everything pretty well.”7 Campbell had almost identical marks in 1940 – .992 again, and .284 at the plate. Newark beat Louisville in the Little World Series.
Then came 1941. As noted, he started the season with the Red Sox, pinch-running in the one game but then being promptly assigned to Montreal. There he – yet again – replicated the figures he’d established the two prior seasons – .993 fielding percentage, and .285 at bat.
The Red Sox were out of options and had a decision to make. Campbell was in his fourth spring training with the Red Sox. The United States had declared war on Japan just a couple of months earlier. Some of the Sox had already left for military service, and the status of outfielders Ted Williams and Dom DiMaggio was uncertain.
Campbell approached manager Joe Cronin at the start of spring training and asked for permission to work out in the outfield as well as at first base, where he was clearly blocked by the 33-year-old Jimmie Foxx. Paul Waner gave Campbell some advice about batting, and he began to hit with some power during the springtime.8 He belted a grand slam on April 3 at Columbia, South Carolina, in front of his parents, his two sisters, his wife, and his in-laws, who were all in attendance. Campbell made the team. Burt Whitman of the Boston Herald wrote, “There’s no more popular 1942 Red Sox player than Paul.”9 He’d won the position through “sheer determination and hustle.”10
Campbell not only made the team, but was with the Red Sox all year long. He appeared in 26 games, nine of them as a pinch-runner, 13 as a pinch-hitter, and four as a late-inning replacement in center field. He never played first base and never had more than one plate appearance in a game. In 15 at-bats, he had only one base hit, a single on June 2. He walked once. This left him with a batting average of .067 and an on-base percentage of .125. His one chance in the field was handled successfully.
Given that Campbell was married (in November 1940 to his childhood sweetheart, Mary Ellen Shannon), and working in a defense plant during the offseason with a 2-A draft classification, the Red Sox didn’t expect him to be called into service. He might have had more opportunity to play in 1943, with so many players leaving for wartime duty – except that he was among the ones called. He was inducted into the U. S. Army on January 21, 1943, at Camp Croft, South Carolina.
Gary Bedingfield writes that Campbell “served with the Army Air Force at Morris Field, North Carolina, where he trained with the supply division. He was transferred to Jacksonville Army Air Base, Florida, in April 1943, and was sent overseas to Thurleigh airfield in England with the 306th Bomb Group shortly afterwards.”11
Technical Sergeant Campbell also played baseball while in the service. Bedingfield continued, “Campbell was the hitting star with the 306th ‘Reich Wreckers’ team and played in the all-professional game at London in August 1943. Following this game the Eighth Air Force team toured US military camps all over England. In 29 games, Campbell led the 20-man squad with seven home runs and a .470 batting average. He also played for the ‘Greys’ in the UK All-Star game held at Stamford Bridge Stadium in London in June 1945.”12
Campbell was mustered out of the Army on February 1, 1946. He reported to the Red Sox at spring training and made the team. Foxx was no longer with them, but they’d acquired Rudy York from the Tigers in early January. York played in 154 of the 156 games. (There were two ties.)
Campbell had clearly lost three years of potential development as a player. He shrugged, “That’s the way it was and, besides, I had fun playing ball over there.”13 Campbell got into 28 games, again primarily as a pinch-hitter. There were three games in which he had more than one plate appearance. It’s hard to say he was in integral part of the Red Sox winning the pennant in 1946; he hit .115, scored three times, and had zero runs batted in.
The Red Sox played the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series. Campbell saw action in just one game – Game Seven. It was the top of the ninth inning and the Cardinals had just taken a 4-3 lead in the bottom of the eighth. Rudy York singled to lead off the ninth and manager Joe Cronin inserted the much faster Campbell as a pinch-runner. Bobby Doerr singled and Campbell reached second base, the tying run with nobody out. He took third base when Pinky Higgins’s grounder to third forced Doerr at second. Roy Partee fouled out and pinch-hitter Tom McBride hit a grounder to second base. Campbell ran home and crossed the plate, but Higgins was forced at second base for the third out and the Cardinals won the World Series.
In January 1947 the Red Sox released Campbell outright to the Louisville Colonels again. He admitted, “I have to convince myself that I can play ball. For the last five seasons, I’ve been at-bat only 41 times. I’ve played only three full seasons since the start of 1942. Sitting on the bench with the Red Sox in 1942 and again last season after three years in the service has made me feel uncertain of my ability. I don’t know whether I can play because I haven’t had a chance to play.”14 He had a good season for Louisville, hitting .304 with 71 RBIs. He was again MVP on the team. Manager Harry Leibold said, “There’s no finer fielding first baseman anywhere. I think he would be a handy guy for any big league club to have around.” On October 12 the Colonels sold Campbell’s contract to the Detroit Tigers.15
Campbell finally got a chance to play on a more regular basis in the big leagues. He played in 59 games for the 1948 Tigers and 87 games in 1949. Where he’d hit .098 in his time with the Red Sox, he hit a combined .274 for the Tigers. He drove in the first run of his time in the majors – in fact, three of them – in Detroit’s 5-2 win over the Senators on May 24. On June 16, his 11th-inning single won the game against the Philadelphia Athletics, 2-1. He hit his first major-league home run on June 26, a three-run homer off Allie Reynolds of the Yankees. In 1949 he drove in 30 runs and also shined in the field, tying a major-league record by executing two unassisted double plays in the same game (May 14 in St. Louis). He won another game with an 11th-inning single, this time on July 17.
In 1950 Campbell pinch-ran in two games and pinch-hit in a third, with his last major-league game being on May 14. When cutdown time came, his contract was sold to the Toledo Mud Hens. He hit an even .300 for Toledo in 1950 and then.299 in 1951. In January 1952 Campbell was named player-manager of the Class-A Eastern League’s Williamsport Tigers; it was his last full season as a player. He hit .318 in 113 games. The team finished in last place, 35 games out of first, but Campbell’s work was regarded highly enough that Detroit asked him to manage their Double-A club in Little Rock in 1953. Again, it was to a last-place finish. Campbell was the first of two managers for the Piedmont League team in Hagerstown in 1954. He hit a pinch-hit grand slam on May 10 to beat Norfolk and another on the Fourth of July to beat Lynchburg. Two days later team owner Eugene Raney announced that he was quitting his own team and turning it over to a group of local businessmen. The team was in last place at the time. Within a week, the new executives brought in Zeke Bonura to manage and Campbell agreed to “promote the team and scout for Washington.”16
On November 27, 1956, Campbell became a general manager, running the Louisville Colonels. At the end of October 1958, he resigned and became a scout for the Cincinnati Reds. Thus began a long-term relationship with the Reds, scouting (he is credited with signing Tommy Helms) and becoming traveling secretary from 1964. Campbell worked for GM Bob Howsam through the whole “Big Red Machine” years, retiring after the 1977 season. Looking forward to retirement, he said, “I’ve never had a summer vacation, never spent the Fourth of July with my family or had time for golf. I look forward to all those things. Forty-four years is long enough for anyone.”17 Just a few months after retiring, Campbell signed on with the Cincinnati as a scout covering Eastern Tennessee. He remained with the Reds as a scouting consultant until 1994.
Campbell lived in Fairfield Glade, Tennessee, at the time with his second wife, Lillian McCord Taylor, whom he had married in 1962. Paul had lost his first wife in March 1961. He and Mary Ellen had one child, Marilyn Ann.
Paul Campbell passed away at age 88, on June 22, 2006, at the Sardis Oaks Nursing Home in Charlotte.
In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed Campbell’s player file and player questionnaire from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Retrosheet.org, Baseball-Reference.com, Rod Nelson of SABR’s Scouts Committee, and the SABR Minor Leagues Database, accessed online at Baseball-Reference.com.
1 Gene Lawing, “Spurrier Will Sign Red Sox Contract,” Charlotte Observer, August 26, 1934: 11. See also Brent Kelley, The Pastime in Turbulence: Interviews With Baseball Players of the 1940s (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2001).
2 “Laval Confers With Campbell,” Charlotte Observer, September 2, 1934: 10.
3 Gene Lawing, “Paul Campbell, Signed by Boston Red Sox, To Report To Hornets For Spring Training,” Charlotte Observer, March 2, 1935: 8. The April 30 Observer said the bonus was $500. Campbell left Brevard to join spring training. He played forward for the junior college’s basketball team and was named to the first all-tournament team.
4 Handwritten note by Paul Campbell in his player file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
5 Jake Wade, “Jake Wade’s Sports Parade,” Charlotte Observer, April 30, 1935: 20.
6 John Drohan, “Campbell’s Boyish Dream of Making Sox Coming True,” Boston Traveler, April 4, 1942: 4.
7 Gerry Moore, “Hello, Sport!,” Boston Globe, April 2, 1942: 8.
8 Jack Malaney, “Campbell Blooms In Red Sox Garden,” The Sporting News, April 9, 1942.
9 Burt Whitman, “Campbell Hits Slam; Doerr, Dom Homer,” Boston Herald, April 4, 1942: 8.
10 Ed Rumill, “Paul Campbell’s Improved Hitting and Outfielding Please Manager Joe Cronin,” Christian Science Monitor, April 7, 1942: 14.
11 Gary Bedingfield, “Paul Campbell,” baseballinwartime.com.
15 “Colonels Sell Campbell,” Lexington (Kentucky) Leader, October 13, 1947: 6.
16 “Back to Managing for Zeke Bonura,” Omaha World-Herald, July 13, 1954: 18. Hagerstown was a Washington Senators farm team.
17 Unidentified July 23, 1977, newspaper clipping in Campbell’s Hall of Fame player file.