Longtime major league reliever Bill Campbell passed away today after a battle with cancer, according to multiple reports. He was 74 years old.
A native of Highland Park, Michigan, Campbell began his professional baseball career with the Twins after a military stint in Vietnam. The war delayed his entry into pro ball until he was 22 years old, but the 6’3″ righty reached the majors within two seasons. A starting pitcher in the minors, Campbell broke into the big leagues as a reliever with Minnesota during the 1973 season. He threw 51 2/3 innings through 28 appearances as a rookie, posting a 3.14 ERA.
That kicked off a stretch in which Campbell was one of the sport’s better late-game weapons. Part of an era in which there were a number of multi-inning “fireman” relievers, Campbell served as a bullpen workhorse. He topped 120 frames in each season from 1974-76, allowing fewer than four earned runs per nine innings in all three years. During the ’76 campaign, Campbell led all big leaguers with 68 games finished and put up a 3.01 ERA over 167 2/3 innings out of the bullpen.
For his efforts, Campbell earned a seventh-place finish in AL Cy Young balloting and an eighth-place tally in MVP voting. That marked an excellent platform showing before he qualified for free agency. He signed with the Red Sox that offseason and had another great year during his first season in Boston. Campbell put up a 2.96 ERA across 140 innings, pacing the American League with 31 saves. He earned an All-Star nod and finished fifth in Cy Young voting and 10th in MVP balloting.
That was Campbell’s last elite season, as he was limited to fewer than 55 innings in each of the next four years with Boston. Campbell signed with the Cubs upon qualifying for free agency during the 1981-82 offseason. He’d top 100 frames again in his two seasons in Chicago, posting a 3.69 ERA during his first year. The Cubs traded him to the Phillies, where he pitched to a 3.43 ERA through 81 1/3 innings in 1984. He’d change teams each year for the rest of his career, following up with successive one-year stops as a Cardinal, Tiger and Expo. The ’85 campaign afforded Campbell his only opportunity to pitch in the postseason, as he tossed 6 1/3 innings of one-run ball for the National League champions.
Campbell appeared in all 15 major league seasons from 1973-87. He played for seven different clubs, particularly thriving during his early work with the Twins and Red Sox. Campbell was named the American League’s reliever of the year in both seasons in which he secured Cy Young and MVP votes. At career’s end, he owned a 3.54 ERA in 1229 1/3 innings over exactly 700 big league appearances. Campbell struck out 864 hitters, won 83 games and finished off 455 outings with 126 saves.
After his playing career concluded, Campbell had coaching stints in the Brewers and Red Sox organizations. MLBTR sends our condolences to Campbell’s family, friends, loved ones and former teammates.