I’ve joined a fantasy league (don’t laugh too loud). It’s a new experience for me. I’ve never done anything like it before and I have no idea how good I’ll be or if the other “owners” will want to shoot me by the time we’re through. It’s a league that begins with the 1910 season and goes on for a while. Now I know a little about Deadball baseball, but I’m surprised at how much I’ve had to learn to be competitive in this kind of thing. I had to draft a team and that meant I had to study players I’d never heard of in all the years I’ve looked at baseball. One guy I drafted was particularly interesting and I thought I’d let you know a little about Vin Campbell.
Arthur Vincent “Vin” Campbell, Jr. was born in St. Louis in January 1888 to a prominent eye doctor and his wife. Education was important to the family so Vin went to an “academy” (we’d probably call them a “prep school” today) in St. Louis then took off for Vanderbilt in Nashville. He played both football and baseball, becoming the primary catcher for the baseball team. He was nicknamed “The Demon” for his ferocious style of play at football and the name slid over to baseball. After one season at Vanderbilt, he signed with the Cubs in 1908.
He made the big league team out of spring training, but didn’t play much (one at bat) and was sent down to Decatur for “seasoning.” Then he was sold to Atlanta. That got the attention of the National Commission (the ruling body of Major League Baseball). Under the rules of the day Chicago couldn’t be party to a sale between minor league clubs (remember the “farm” system of today didn’t exist in 1908) so it led to the Cubs paying a fine and losing Campbell as a free agent.
He signed with the Northwestern League in 1909, stole 72 bases, and ended up sold to the Pittsburgh Pirates. After a winter selling shoes (he was a traveling salesman not assigned to one store) he made the Pirates teams as a the fourth outfielder in 1910. Injuries put him into the lineup and by September he was the regular right fielder. He ended the season hitting .326, good for second in the National League, and fourth in the league in OPS.
In 1911 he notified the Pirates he was not planning to play baseball that season, having gotten a job with a brokerage firm in St. Louis (it paid better). That lasted until late in the season, when he applied for reinstatement, which was granted. There are a couple of versions of what was going on, but my favorite is that he’d found a girl in Pittsburgh and she didn’t want to move to St. Louis. Apparently he got the girl, but Max Carey got the outfield job and Campbell spent most of the season as a pinch hitter and fourth outfielder.
In 1912 he held out for more money. Pittsburgh cut him and Boston (the Braves, not the Red Sox) picked him up. He hit .296, led the NL in at bats, had 185 hits, scored 102 runs, and had what turned out to be his career year.
In 1913 he decided to retire. He took a job as President of the Keystone Motor Supply Company in Pittsburgh and announced he wasn’t going to play baseball unless he could join the Giants (pennant winners in 1912). That came to nothing, so he stayed away from the game until the arrival of the new Federal League in 1914.
The Feds were considered by the established leagues as an “Outlaw League.” They signed a lot of over-the-hill types, a bunch of “wannabes” and guys like Campbell who’d had a cup of coffee and a few good years. He ended up in Indianapolis where he helped lead the Hoosiers to the first Federal League title. He played again in 1915. Indianapolis had done poorly in attendance in 1914 and the franchise, along with Campbell, was transferred to Newark. He had one last good year. He was 27.
The Feds folded after the 1915 season and Campbell was offered contracts, all of which contained major pay cuts. He refused and retired, this time for good. He did, however, have one last dealing with baseball. He sued Newark for $8200, the size of his contract which he’d signed in September before the Feds folded. A jury gave him just under $6000.
He went into the tire business, was successful, and moved to New York. There he began managing a chain of tire stores, continuing to sell tires for the rest of his working life. He retired and died in 1969, a successful businessman, but a neglected ball player.
For his career Vin Campbell played in 546 games (both NL and Federal League) hitting .310 with 642 hits, 326 runs, 11 RBIs, 92 stolen bases, 85 doubles, 15 homes runs, a slugging percentage of .408, an OBP of .357, and an OPS of .765 (OPS+ of 114). All that got him 4.5 WAR. In 1912 he led the NL in at bats, outs made, and errors committed by an outfielder.
Campbell is part of my fantasy team. I’d never heard of him, but was fascinated by the shortness of a career that seemed to always verge on the very good. It seems he had outside interests, the skill to pursue them, and the finances (both his family and his in-laws had decent money for the era) to live a life without baseball. That set of factors alone makes him unusual for Deadball players and makes him interesting.