Position: First Base
Birthplace: Paw Creek
First, Middle Names: Paul McLaughlin
Date of Birth: Sept. 1, 1917 Date and Place of Death: June 22, 2006, Charlotte, NC
Burial: Forest Lawn West Cemetery, Charlotte
High School: Paw Creek High School
College: Brevard College, Brevard, NC
Bats: L Throws: L Height and Weight: 5-10, 185
Debut Year: 1941 Final Year: 1950 Years Played: 6
Teams and Years: Boston Red Sox, 1941-42, 1946; Detroit Tigers, 1948-50
G AB H R RBI HR BA. OBP. SLG. WAR
204 380 97 61 41 4 .255 .308 .358 -0.9
A long career in the major leagues requires skill, of course, but a bit of luck sometimes doesn’t hurt. Paul Campbell was a bit short on the hitting skills expected of first basemen, and he had the awful luck of playing on the same teams with some big-hitting ones.
Though he was a part-time player for six years, Campbell lasted more than 50 years in professional baseball as a minor-league manager and coach, a front-office executive and a scout.
Born in the small community of Paw Creek in western Mecklenburg County, Campbell and his two younger sisters grew up in nearby Charlotte where their father, Charles, worked first in a cotton mill and then managed a grocery store that he later owned. He would be murdered in the store in 1959.
Campbell played competitive baseball as a 12-year-old on the Chadwick-Hoskins Mill team, which played in one of the industrial leagues that flourished in North Carolina through the middle of the last century. He was a fan favorite in American Legion ball, hitting .407 for the Charlotte, North Carolina, club in 1934.
Two years later, after attending junior college in Brevard, North Carolina, Campbell signed his first professional contract with the Danville Leafs in Virginia. He got his first call to the big leagues in 1941 after two solid years for the Boston Red Sox’s Class AA franchise in Louisville, Kentucky. Campbell appeared in one game at first base for the Sox before being demoted. He made it into 26 games when the Red Sox beckoned again the following year, but he hit a paltry .067.
Tradition was working against him. First base in the major leagues has always been a power position. The guys who play there are usually big and bulky and hit a lot of home runs. Think Lou Gehrig or Harmon Killebrew, Hank Greenberg or Albert Pujols. Campbell, at 5-10 and 185 pounds, was small in comparison and never hit more than 15 homers in a season and that was back in Class D ball.
He was also trying to take the job from two of the most prolific power hitters of their era. Though at the tail end of a Hall of Fame career, Jimmie Foxx was still a dangerous hitter when Campbell first joined the Red Sox. Rudy York, who hit almost 300 homers during his career, held the job when Campbell returned from World War II in 1946.
Campbell had joined the Army Air Force three years earlier and had toured American air bases in England playing baseball.
Sent back down to Louisville again after appearing in only 28 games for the Red Sox in 1946, Campbell was frustrated. “I have to convince myself that I can play ball,” he said at the time. “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.”[I]
But at 29, Campbell turned in his finest season in 1947. In 152 games with Louisville, he batted .304 with 71 RBIs, received MVP honors and prompted manager Harry Leibold to say: “There’s no finer fielding first baseman anywhere. I think he would be a handy guy for any big-league club to have around.”[II]
Campbell was excited to get a fresh start with the Detroit Tigers in 1948, but the results were same – hitting .270 or thereabouts with no power led to sparse playing time. After five more years in the minors, Campbell retired as an active player in 1954.
He was a minor-league coach, manager and executive before becoming a scout for the Cincinnati Reds in 1958. Campbell was promoted to traveling secretary six years later, a position he would hold until 1978. He would continue scouting for the Reds in some fashion until his retirement in 1993, 57 years after his first professional job in Danville.
Campbell and his second wife, Lillian, — his first, Mary Ellen, had died in 1961 – retired to the Charlotte area, where Campbell died at age 89 in a nursing home.
[I] Bedingfield, Gary. “Paul Campbell.” Baseball in Wartime, 2008. http://www.garybed.co.uk/player_biographies/campbell_paul.htm.