One of the top firemen of his era, Campbell perhaps had the greatest season that any relief pitcher ever had in 1976. Bill saved 20 games and won an extra 17 without making a single start all season. An expert at putting out fires, Campbell was used as a closer as well as an elite setupman. It wasn’t a trick for Bill to come out of the pen and chew up 100+ innings of quality relief work a season.
The Twins signed Campbell as an undrafted free agent in 1970. He was called up by the parent club in 1973 and worked in 28 games–all but two in relief. As a sophomore Bill settled in as a top-flight fireman. With the ’74 Twins, he saved 19 games on a 2.62 ERA. Never your typical one-inning gunslinger, Campbell appeared in 63 games and worked 120 innings. After an off-year in 1975, Bill rebounded with an exceptional campaign in 1976. That year he went 17-5 with 20 saves out of the bullpen. He paced the American League in winning percentage, games and games finished. In 78 contests, Bill worked 168 innings–a usual workload for a middle-of-the-rotation starter in modern times. For his terrific work, Bill finished seventh in Cy Young Award voting and eighth in MVP voting.
In the mid 1970s free agency exploded and Bill cashed in. He signed a five-year deal worth one million dollars to pitch for the Red Sox. Boston got their money’s worth the first year of the deal as Bill ventured off to Beantown and led the AL with 31 saves. Named to the All-Star team, Campbell worked 140 innings his first year with Boston and only surrendered 112 hits while fanning 114 batters. But after several seasons of logging as many innings as a starting pitcher, Bill began to suffer from arm troubles. Limited to just 29 games in 1978, Bill lost his closer’s role to Dick Drago and Tom Burgmeier.
Campbell suffered through his worst season in 1980 with arm problems and ineffective pitching–it was the only season he walked more batters than he struck out. He was able to get back on course in 1981–the final year of his mega contract–but Boston let him walk via free agency and he signed with the Cubs. In his first taste of National League play, Bill worked 100 innings again–the first time since his arm troubles began. A valuable setupman for the Cubs, Bill led the NL with 82 games pitched in 1983. After the season however, the Cubs made a shrewd deal and sent Bill to the Phillies for outfielders Gary Matthews and Bob Dernier.
Campbell spent one solid year as a setupman with the Phillies before he was dealt to the Cardinals. After twelve years in the Majors, Bill finally got his taste of postseason action with the 1985 Cardinals. A member of St. Louis’ strong bullpen, Campbell was used in 50 games and served as rookie sensation Todd Worrell’s setupman during the postseason. He went unscored upon in the NLCS against the Dodgers and was effective in the World Series against the Royals but Kansas City won the Fall Classic in seven games. He signed with the Tigers as a free agent in ’86 and worked 56 innings as Guillermo Hernandez’s setupman. He posted a terrific 7.4 hits allowed per nine innings in his final full season. He pitched briefly with the Expos in 1987 before calling it a career.
W 83/L 68/PCT .550/ERA 3.54/G 700/SV 126/IP 1,229/H 1,139/BB 495/SO 864