Soup Goes to Nam

Bernie Carbohydrate

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Few fans know about the military record of Bill "Soup" Campbell, a terrific reliever for the late-70's Sox. Campbell served as a radioman in the 101st Airborne (1968-1969), joined the Twins in 1970, and signed with the Red Sox as a free agent in 1976 for what was considered a pricey $1 million.

I wish Campbell would write a book about his experiences, because he was one of the few MLB players to serve in Vietnam. Most wrangled a slot in the reserves. Soup's teammate Bill Lee is very direct about how it worked:
In 1969, even though I had a wife and a young child, I got my draft notice. I took the physical. I think my lottery number was 36. I was toast. Then I called the Red Sox. They flew me to Boston and the next day I enlisted in the Army Reserves. The moral of the story is if you are lefthanded and can throw strikes, you don't go to 'Nam.
When Campbell's draft notice came, he was not yet a major league pitcher (he'd just dropped out of college), so he had no way out. He talks about that in a Seattle Times interview from 1991:
I tried to get into the reserve, Coast Guard, but they were booked up. I had had elbow surgery for bone chips, but they laughed at me at the induction physical. In 1968, they were taking anyone who breathed.

I will never forget standing on a black tile floor and sweating in a hot room and leaving barefoot prints on the floor. The guy next to me had feet flat as a pancake. They took him, too.
I'm 6-foot-3 to start, and I'm carrying around a radio with a 6-foot antenna, and you know the lieutenant wanted it up all the time in case we needed to get help quick. It felt like I was waving a neon sign reading, `Right here, guys.'
Lee talks about how Campbell stood out on a Red Sox team full of young men who hadn't gone overseas:
"Mostly my duty was to go into South Boston in my Army uniform and get the donuts....My teammate Bill Campbell had to walk the point in an infantry platoon in Vietnam. He was lucky, too; he came back alive."
 
I have thought the same thing: Soup should write a book. You can't help but want to hear more of his story if you read Bill Lee's The Wrong Stuff (which I think is where the Lee quotes above come from).
Actually, The Wrong Stuff should be reprinted, it's a terrific read. (Like practically anything, you can find a copy, but I don't think it's currently in print.) Spaceman clearly had a good friendship, and lots of respect, for Bill Campbell.
As much as we live in the Information Age, too many of baseball's colorful characters have had their stories only partially told.
 

Mugsy's Jock

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Wow, I had no idea about this and am suddenly really curious. Thank you for sharing -- it'd be great to hear his story from him.

I remember listening to the radio when I was taking my very first driver's test as a 15 year-old, and Campbell was making his first appearance for the Red Sox. I remember his falling short of unreasonable expectations in his Red Sox years, but defended him at the time as more effective than he got credit for.
 

Steve Dillard

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Bill Campbell pitched in 78 games and 167 innings in relief hist last year with Minnesota (finishing 68 of them), and 140 innings in relief his first season with the Sox. He was not a middle reliever, but their closer, finishing 60 games, and saving 31 games, finishiing 10th in the MVP vote.
In 1978, when they could have used him, he had burned out his arm by mid-April (including 1.1 innings in the first game of a double header, and 4 innings in the second game) , and was on-and-off available only in short spurts (especially compared to his past usage).


That was the last effective Bill Campmbell we saw in his five year free agent contract. The Cubs managed to get 144 games out of him in his two years, resuming his heavy use from 1983-84.

I had worked with a guy who saw battle in Vietnam, and he recounted that after seeing action, everything else seemed stress free. I imagine playing baseball, even with the tesnion of closing games, must have been a piece of cake.
 

Red(s)HawksFan

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Bill Campbell pitched in 78 games and 167 innings in relief hist last year with Minnesota (finishing 68 of them), and 140 innings in relief his first season with the Sox. He was not a middle reliever, but their closer, finishing 60 games, and saving 31 games, finishiing 10th in the MVP vote.
In 1978, when they could have used him, he had burned out his arm by mid-April (including 1.1 innings in the first game of a double header, and 4 innings in the second game) , and was on-and-off available only in short spurts (especially compared to his past usage).


That was the last effective Bill Campmbell we saw in his five year free agent contract. The Cubs managed to get 144 games out of him in his two years, resuming his heavy use from 1983-84.

I had worked with a guy who saw battle in Vietnam, and he recounted that after seeing action, everything else seemed stress free. I imagine playing baseball, even with the tesnion of closing games, must have been a piece of cake.
Campbell was one of the early free agent cautionary tales that eventually led, at least in part, to where we are now with specialization. While we can pretend that pitch counts and innings limits and one-inning/one-batter specialist relievers came about because it was better for the pitcher's health and effectiveness, or it was better strategy to use fresher pitchers more often, the big driving force was pitchers became a bigger investment for teams.

The Sox could burn out a pitcher like Dick Radatz in 3-4 years because he was cheap and disposable. Harder to view a guy that way when you commit a guaranteed million dollars and a five year contract to him. Teams could no longer afford to treat their Bill Campbells like Dick Radatz. Unless you're Joe Torre and your pitcher is named Scott Proctor.
 

lexrageorge

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Bill Campbell had some horrible BABIP luck in 1978 as well: 0.391, with an unsightly 0.429 in Fenway. His peripherals were quite a bit better. But Dom Zimmer made sure he and Bill Lee were kept in mothballs for most of September.
 

jaytftwofive

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Bill Campbell pitched in 78 games and 167 innings in relief hist last year with Minnesota (finishing 68 of them), and 140 innings in relief his first season with the Sox. He was not a middle reliever, but their closer, finishing 60 games, and saving 31 games, finishiing 10th in the MVP vote.
In 1978, when they could have used him, he had burned out his arm by mid-April (including 1.1 innings in the first game of a double header, and 4 innings in the second game) , and was on-and-off available only in short spurts (especially compared to his past usage).


That was the last effective Bill Campmbell we saw in his five year free agent contract. The Cubs managed to get 144 games out of him in his two years, resuming his heavy use from 1983-84.

I had worked with a guy who saw battle in Vietnam, and he recounted that after seeing action, everything else seemed stress free. I imagine playing baseball, even with the tesnion of closing games, must have been a piece of cake.
Basically they say Zimmer burned him out at end of 77, and 78 he wasn't the same.
 

Dick Drago

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Loved Bill Campbell—he was a force in ‘77, until the last few weeks of the season when he was burnt. Zimmer basically used him in every close game the Sox were a part of—3+ innings if needed. He was never the same thereafter—almost became a specialist to face LHB because of his screwball.
 

terrynever

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Only a very few living athletes have experienced both combat and top-level sports competition. Rocky Bleier is the most well-known. I am just now learning of Bill Campbell, who had a very dangerous job in combat because the enemy was always looking to kill the guy who carried the radio. And as Bill says in the 1991 Seattle interview posted by Bernie, he was 6-foot-3 and carrying a 10-foot antenna attached to his radio.
I would love to hear his thoughts on combat vs. pitching in a pennant race. One commonality is the rush of adrenalin in both experiences. Living life on the edge is something that combat veterans often do when they come home to a quieter world. They miss the adrenalin. So do athletes when they quit competing,
 
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Monbonthbump

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Thanks for posting this. I have one of his baseball cards in my closet and see it every day. Coincidentally, my father, who was in the Battle of the Bulge, carried the same name.
 

E5 Yaz

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Only a very few living athletes have experienced both combat and top-level sports competition. Rocky Bleier is the most well-known.
Alejandro Villaneuva of the Steelers was an Army Ranger and served three combat tours in Afghanistan, former Cowboy Chad Hennings flew combat missions in Iraq, Roger Staubach was a supply officer in Vietnam and (depending on what you consider top-level sports) Jesse Ventura served in Vietnam as well.
 

terrynever

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Alejandro Villaneuva of the Steelers was an Army Ranger and served three combat tours in Afghanistan, former Cowboy Chad Hennings flew combat missions in Iraq, Roger Staubach was a supply officer in Vietnam and (depending on what you consider top-level sports) Jesse Ventura served in Vietnam as well.
Thanks, Yaz. All good. Didn’t a law get passed recently to allow military academy athletes to go straight to the pros, if they are good enough? Belichick must know. He picks a Navy guy every year.
 

LoweTek

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I got to know Soup pretty well in the 90's and into the early 2000's. He is one of the nicest, most laid back guys you will ever meet. Knows his sh*t too. He is a very good baseball coach and knows how to instruct. I learned a lot from him, some of which I still use when I coach. Nothing bothered him. Has a lot of passion for the game regardless of how it worked out for him. He's hesitant to utter an unkind word about his time in Boston. As much time as we spent together, I don't ever recall him saying anything about serving in Viet Nam, pretty common actually for a lot of those guys.
 

geoduck no quahog

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I got to know Soup pretty well in the 90's and into the early 2000's. He is one of the nicest, most laid back guys you will ever meet. Knows his sh*t too. He is a very good baseball coach and knows how to instruct. I learned a lot from him, some of which I still use when I coach. Nothing bothered him. Has a lot of passion for the game regardless of how it worked out for him. He's hesitant to utter an unkind word about his time in Boston. As much time as we spent together, I don't ever recall him saying anything about serving in Viet Nam, pretty common actually for a lot of those guys.
Was down in Winter Haven in '77 and walking down the entrance road back into town, a car stopped alongside and asked if I needed a lift. Got in. It was Campbell. We talked about music the whole ride back to the Holiday Inn. What a great guy.