Bristol Baseball’s Best

Frederick Ivor-Campbell

Only a few miles and nearly 125 years to the day from the start of one of the greatest feats in baseball history, the sport tragically lost one of its top ambassadors. On Friday, Frederick Ivor-Campbell was traveling on Route 195 E when his car was struck head-on by a westbound vehicle after its driver lost control and swerved across six lanes of traffic. Fred was pronounced dead at the scene, while his wife Alma was seriously injured in the crash. The news of his passing is being mourned by the thousands of loyal fans, friends, and colleagues across the country who had the honor of knowing him.

A former English professor at Kings College in New York, Fred Campbell was a member of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) for three decades and was, as the Bristol Phoenix described him in 1997, “one of the foremost experts on the origination and early days of baseball”. Fred wrote or edited several books including “Total Baseball – The Official Encyclopedia”, “Biographical Dictionary of American Sports”, and the Sporting News/SABR Award-winning “Baseball’s First Stars”. In addition to his fine research, Fred served in many official capacities for SABR, such as chair of the 19th Century Committee, member of the board of Directors, and Vice President. His tireless work ultimately earned him the group’s highest recognition, the Bob Davids Award, in 2003.

I first met Fred eleven years ago when he graciously shared his vast knowledge with a gritty bunch of ballplayers known as the Providence Grays Vintage Base Ball Club, while we prepared to recreate the sport the way it was played in Rhode Island back in 1884. As Fred explained to us at our first team meeting, that was when pitcher Charlie “Old Hoss” Radbourn did the impossible — leading his Providence Grays almost single-handedly to the National League pennant and first-ever World’s Series, winning an astronomical 59 games in the process! Today’s Grays, thanks much to Fred’s input, have been a pioneering force in the burgeoning sport ever since our first game on the Bristol Town Common in 1998. We, and the dozens of vintage clubs throughout the region that have followed, all owe a huge debt of gratitude to this kind, soft-spoken gentleman. With a youthful sparkle in his eye and loving wife by his side, Fred’s joy in watching the game, which he knew so intimately, being played on one of the nation’s oldest ball fields, was something special to behold. In his typical humble fashion, I’m sure he would claim this was repayment enough… but it’s not even close.

Like his favorite story of Old Hoss’ march toward immortality that he worked so hard to preserve, Frederick Ivor-Campbell’s memory should also be kept alive for future generations. However, just as a mid-season suspension of Radbourn was lifted on July 23, 1884 by Providence’s management after their only other pitcher jumped to another league, pressure must again be exerted on the powers that be in order for Fred to have his chance at lasting glory.

If the Bristol Athletic Hall of Fame can induct members who reached their prime as teenagers or whose impact was felt only at the local level, then surely there’s plenty of room for one of the most profound baseball intellectuals of his or any era — not to mention all of Bristol‘s other baseball greats missing from the plaques adorning the wall in the Town Hall. Indeed, not only are the two Bristolians who reached the majors absent from our Athletic Hall of Fame (that would be John Hamill and a player known only by the name of Sullivan in case you’re wondering), but so too is the best ballplayer to have ever called this town his home:

William Whyte

Billy Whyte was denied what certainly would’ve been a solid big league career simply because of the color of his skin!

In the above-mentioned Phoenix article, Frederick Ivor-Campbell coyly admitted he loved “seeing [his] name in print.” Well, I can’t think of a more fitting tribute to Fred, a person who filled so many minds and touched so many hearts with the history and wonder of our national pastime, than for him to see his name posthumously etched alongside the rest of Bristol baseball’s best.

Fred With The 2003 Bob Davids Award

He will be missed but hopefully never forgotten.

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