Dave Dombrowski is certainly one of the most respected baseball minds today as President and General Manager of the Tigers.
But when one thinks of the men who have lead the ballclub over the years, former Tiger General Manager and later President and Chairman of the ballclub Jim Campbell can never be forgotten.
Campbell was old school, conservative, and a Scottish penny pincher who came across like Scrooge sometimes, (to players and fans). He was also one of the most well respected major league executives in baseball history.
Upon graduating from Ohio State, the former Buckeye outfielder was hired by the Tigers to serve as the business manager of the team’s Class D farm team in Thomasville, Georgia. Within four years he was promoted to business manager for Detroit’s minor league system in 1953 at the age of 29. Campbell was credited with creating the Tigertown Complex in Lakeland Florida in 1953 and five years later he was named Vice-President in charge of farm operations.
And what a farmer he was.
Thanks to his leadership, and after assuming the role of Detroit’s General Manager in 1962, Campbell harvested the largely home grown talent that blossomed into the 1968 World Champions. Mickey Lolich, Bill Freehan, Dick McAuliffe, Willie Horton, and Jim Northrup to name just a few were products of Campbell’s system.
In the early seventies his shrewd acquisitions of Aurelio Rodrguez, Eddie Brinkman, Joe Coleman, Woodie Fryman, Frank Howard, Duke Sims, and Tony Taylor nearly lead to another World Series appearance in 1972 when the Tigers won the division title.
Years later Campbell’s farm system created the ’84 World Champions with Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, Lance Parrish, Jack Morris, Dan Petry, Kirk Gibson and others. He also convinced Sparky Anderson to manage the Tigers in a spectacular midseason move in 1979.
In the age of the reserve clause, Campbell was an especially tough negotiator, (if there really was negotiation back then). Just just ask any former Tiger.
When Rocky Colavito challenged Campbell during spring training of 1963 and sat out for a few days, Campbell traded the Tiger star and fan favorite at the end of the season. To replace Colavito, the GM inserted Detroit sandlot star Willie Horton to fill the void and took Horton under his wing.
Although often he appeared to be gruff on the outside, Campbell was also known to be extremely loyal, honest, and in some instances generous.
After Horton’s parents were killed in a car accident in 1965, Willie told me for a Free Press article that Campbell handed him a check for $20,000 to pay for medical bills and funeral expenses. He later remembered Horton in his will.
Despite all that he had done for the organization, on August 3, 1992, while in Cooperstown New York, the then Tiger Chairman learned that he and team President Bo Schembechler had been fired by team owner Tom Monaghan. The men were canned as part of an apparent pre-condition as part of the sale of the team to Mike Ilitch.
It is my understanding that Campbell never fully recovered from leaving the only employer he ever had after 43 years of service.
Just three years later, on Halloween 1995 he died of a heart attack in Lakeland, Florida.
Considering what Jim Campbell did for the franchise, if the Tigers ever get around to having their own Hall of Fame at Comerica Park, he should be one of the early inductees.