Caroline County, Virginia — A Baseball Story In 3 Acts
Act 2: “Soup”
Three ballplayers of note have called Caroline County, Virginia home. And, our story starts in Sparta.
Caroline County fills an area of 537 miles and there are only two towns of any size within those confines – Bowling Green, the county seat, population 1,111, and Port Royal, population 197.
About all there is to Sparta, Virginia today is a post office, a couple churches, and a volunteer fire department. It was once a little more than that, but really not so much.
Clarence “Soup” Campbell was born in Sparta in March 1915.
Does everyone with the last name Campbell end up with the nickname “Soup”? (Yes.)
Let me tell you that trying to research Soup Campbell, the ballplayer, in 1930s and ’40s newspapers means pawing through thousands of ads for “Soup, Campbell’s” – Tomato to Pepper Pot – which was on sale every single day in every single town in America. This was not easy for me and you’re welcome.
(What did Campbell’s make their popular Mock Turtle soup from? Calves heads and organ meats. Now you know.)
Our Soup was the star and captain of his Sparta High School baseball team.
“I’ve been playing ball since I was 10 years old, since I started with the Sparta, Virginia high school team,” Campbell told a reporter from the American Newspaper Alliance in 1942. “The high school was in the same building with the Sparta grade school where I was and I guess they sort of just drafted me.”
He went on to play four seasons at Virginia’s Hampden-Sydney College. In the summers, he played on a semi-pro team in Culpeper.
In 1937, he caught on with a minor league team and in 1940 got the call-up to the Cleveland Indians.
Cleveland Indians logo (1939-1945). Chief Wahoo was still a few years away.
Campbell was a back-up mostly, subbing for other outfielders who were injured or slumping. “A willing worker, a hustler from start to finish, and stocked with power at the plate,” was how one reporter described him.
Indians fans often mistook him for Bruce Campbell who had played five seasons in Cleveland and was traded to Detroit in 1940 just as Soup Campbell was coming up.
Campbell shared his 1941 trading card with future Hall of Famer Lou Boudreau
Soup had good games …
… on August 28, 1941 he went 5-for-5 against the A’s …
… but, at the end of the day, he was just the reliable back-up to the other guys.
On September 10, 1941 Campbell went one-for-three in a game the Indians – behind Bob Feller’s pitching – won 13-7 over the A’s. After the game Campbell was “sent home” for the season so the Indians could call up rookie Hank Edwards. Campbell couldn’t know then that it would be his last big-league game.
Three months later, the United States entered World War II and Campbell enlisted.
Campbell’s probably known less for his two-season playing career in Cleveland than for the best friend he made while there – Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller.
They were roommates to start but the friendship lasted well beyond their careers. Campbell was Feller’s best man. They judged the 1941 Miss Ohio contest together (because that’s what besties do).
They enlisted within weeks of each other – Feller in the Navy, Campbell in the Army. (Some reporters speculated that Campbell and Feller had made a joint “best friends” decision to enlist at the same time.)
In 1942, the two faced off in an Army-Navy benefit baseball game at Ebbets Field.
Feller’s Navy shut out Army 4-0. Campbell played part of the game for Army and is mentioned in the box score only for his zero at bats and one error in center field.
Soup rose to the rank of Captain and when the war ended he returned to Cleveland.
In the spring of 1946, he was poised to regain his spot with the Indians. But, with several outfielders once more stacked above him, Campbell requested that he be farmed out to the minors where he could play regularly. The Indians sent him to the then-minor league Baltimore Orioles. He tripled in his first at-bat.
In July 1947, he hit home runs for the Orioles on three consecutive nights; two of them, including a game-winner in the bottom of the ninth, were inside-the-parkers.
He hung on with Baltimore through ’47, before returning to Caroline County and in 1950, while playing on a local semi-pro team, he pitched – yes, pitched – a no-hitter against Culpeper.
I’d like to think that Soup’s no-hitter that day was thanks to expert advice from best friend Bob Feller.
This 1941 Indians-signed baseball sold at auction for $523 in 2017. You can see Soup’s autograph.
Soup Campbell played in 139 big league games with Cleveland in 1940 and 1941, batting .246 with three career home runs.
After retiring from baseball he became the principal at Sparta High School, and is remembered in Caroline County not only for his baseball career but for two lakes in the county – Lake Holly and Timberlake – that he created out of existing millponds and that are still prime spots for national and state water ski competitions. He died in 2000.
(Don’t miss Act 3 — Two more Caroline County baseball players. An uncle and his nephew … and one of them is still on the field.)
Here’s Act 1: Caroline County
Here’s Act 3: Lew & Tony Beasley