Thursday, September 25, 2014

Card #112: Billy Sample

Who Can It Be Now?
William Amos Sample was born on April 2, 1955, in Roanoke, Virginia. According to Billy's own webpage biography, Billy spent all but two years of his childhood in Salem, Virginia (a town just outside Roanoke) where he attended high school. His classmates there voted him "Most Versatile" after he lettered in three sports, was on the debate team his freshman year, and acted in two plays during his junior year. 

The Texas Rangers drafted Sample twice. The first time he was drafted was in the 28th round of the 1973 June draft -- straight out of high school. He chose instead to make the 108-mile trip north on I-81 to Harrisonburg to attend James Madison University, where he majored in psychology. After his junior year at JMU, the Rangers drafted Sample again in June of 1976 -- this time in the 10th Round

Sample signed after this second time being drafted and was assigned to the Rangers Rookie League team in the Gulf Coast League. Being a man among boys -- 1.2 years older than the average player in the league -- Sample destroyed the league. He hit .382/.505/.566 -- yes, .505 OBP -- in a league which averaged .237/.340/.306 overall. Unsurprisingly, he led the league in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging, finished second in steals with 27 (behind his teammate Greg Jemison's 32), led the league in triples with 9, tied for 9th in doubles with 7, and tied for twelfth in homeruns with just 1.  

Those video-game-style numbers led the Rangers to push Sample to a more age-appropriate league in 1977 -- the Double-A Texas League. He still looked to be a hitting star in Tulsa, slashing at .348/.426/.527, which was good enough for third in the league in hitting (first in the league in the non-El Paso standings), fifth in OBP, and seventh in SLG.  

Thus, in 1978, Sample moved up to Triple-A Tucson. Once again placed in a great hitting environment, Sample took advantage and increased his HR from 7 in Tulsa to 18 in Tucson with a .352/.471/.573 line in a league that hit .291/.369/.422 overall. Once again, placed in context, these numbers still were excellent -- 5th in hitting, 1st in OBP, 4th in SLG (and first among players who appeared in more than 100 games.

That impressive season in Triple-A earned Sample a call-up in September of 1978 to the big club. Then, in 1979, Sample made the Rangers out of spring training and never played in the minors again aside from a three-game stint on an injury rehab in 1981. 

Sample hit reasonably well in 1979 -- .292/.365/.415 -- but the Rangers had a stocked outfield that season. Sample played the most out of 6 players -- who included Al Oliver, Johnny Grubb, Richie Zisk, Mike Jorgensen, and Dave Roberts -- to record an appearance in left field that year. Never shy to express his opinion, Sample noted exactly that issue in a UPI wire story in 1979:
I can't make any excuses. I'll wind up with about 325 to 330 at-bats so I can't complain about the way I've been played. I wanted to hit better than .270 but I'd like to have a few more home runs and RBI. I'm not content, but this is good for starters. I didn't expect to come in here and tear up the league.  
Sure, everyone wants to play every day, but we've got a Mickey Rivers and an Al Oliver and a Richie Zisk in the outfield and those are tough people to move out. But push will come to shove someday.
Instead of pushing others out, however, the Rangers did exactly the opposite -- bringing in Mickey Rivers from the Yankees while trading away DH Oscar Gamble. Yes, that cleared a spot for Zisk to move to DH, but it put yet another player in Rivers ahead of Sample in the Rangers outfield. Add in the fact that the Rangers simply did not appear to be sold on Sample as a right fielder or left fielder -- putting Oliver in left most of the year and rotating 7 different players through right field including Grubb, Jim Norris, Zisk, Oliver, Rusty Staub, Roberts, and Sample. 

Then, throw in the other fact -- Sample was pretty bad at the plate for most of 1980, when he hit .323 in September to pull his average up from . 230 to .260. Of course, that coincided with his most regular playing time of the year. 1981 was not much better for Sample in terms of playing time either but that had to do with injuries as much as it did with players in the way.  Of course, as I mentioned back when I discussed their team checklist, the Rangers were not exactly a well-run organization. Still, why would the Rangers screw around like this with a guy who appeared to be a pretty good prospect with a good batting eye in the minor leagues? (Maybe it was because Sample was the players' rep for 5 years with the club?)

1982 wasn't much better. That year, Sample watched as the team promoted switch hitter George Wright directly from Double-A to be the regular centerfielder. The Rangers brought in third baseman Larry Parrish from Montreal and promptly made him a right fielder. Pushed back to left field, Sample played 85 games there while Johnny Grubb (still around after all these years), Leon Roberts, Lee Mazzilli, and even Pete O'Brien got playing time in left. 

To be fair, it wasn't like Sample's production at the plate was screaming "play me now!" Being as bad at the plate as the 1982 Rangers were (AL ranks: 12th in HR, 13th in AVG, 14th in OBP and SLG) was a team effort, but Sample's OPS+ put him squarely at league average.

Finally, though, in 1983 and 1984, Sample got the opportunity to play on a daily basis in Texas. He put up his best season in the majors in 1983 -- .274/.331/.401, 44 SB (only 8 CS), 12 HR, and 57 RBI. He did this despite hitting in every single spot in the order. His 1984 was less encouraging though, as his batting eye and his OBP deserted him. 

Thus, when the opportunity to get rid of Sample arose, the Rangers did just that. On February 27, 1985, the Rangers sent Sample and a minor leaguer to the Yankees in exchange for former Ranger Toby Harrah. Sample spent one entirely underwhelming season with the Yankees -- coming to the plate just 154 times. 

Despite this less-than-impressive year, he did provide one of the best lines I've come across so far. When asked what kind of guy he is, he said, "I'm like Daffy Duck in the cartoons. I'm black. I've got big feet, and I'm always bitching."

After the 1985 season, he was traded for a second time in his career -- this time to the Atlanta Braves. The Braves played him a little bit as a fourth/fifth outfielder type, but after the season, they let him go. He signed as a free agent with the Twins in February of 1987, but he did not make the team. Thus ended his major league playing career.

Mustache Check: Look you see it? Billy's got just a hint of a mustache, but he has one.

This Is Radio Clash
From 1988 to 1989, Sample served as a broadcaster for the Atlanta Braves. Then, in 1992, he was a broadcaster with the Seattle Mariners. After that year, he joined the broadcast team for the California Angels for two seasons.  When that ended, he signed on to work for the MLB.TV and for 8 years as a writer and commentator.  He was also writing for USA Today and Sports Illustrated in that time as well.

Sample's unique talents in his post-baseball career are best shown by his IMDB page. In 2012, he appeared in a slasher pic called The Meat Puppet. In 2013, he joined the same writers from The Meat Puppet (Billy and Joseph Pepitone, who are the nephews of former Yankee Joe Pepitone) as well as former major leaguers Brian McRae and Jim Leyritz in another horror film called Gravedigger

Once that acting bug bit, Sample had to carry out his own dream. He wrote, directed, produced, and starred in a film called Reunion 108.  The film has been rated pretty highly by IMDB users -- 8.2 out of 10 -- though it's not available on Amazon Prime quite yet.  The screenplay for his film won an award at the Hoboken International Film Festival in 2011, and that's what spurred him on to make the film.

With his own film in the can, he's now in two more indie films scheduled for release in 2015. There's Sugar, for which the IMDB synopsis is "A housewife of a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate secretly forms an all-women [sic] rock band turning her entire world up side down [sic]." And, then, Sample is scheduled to appear in another horror film called Amygdala. You can click through to read the plot summary yourself on that one.

Family Ties
Billy's son Ian was a wide receiver for the University of Hawaii about 10 years ago now -- the year before Hawaii got into the Sugar Bowl with Colt Brennan so that they could get exposed by Georgia.  Ian even wrote a book about being a football player.

A Few Minutes with Tony L.
Sample absolutely owned the Brewers. In 198 plate appearances, he slashed at .353/.388/.500 with 4 HR, 6 SB (5 CS, though) and 13 doubles. That line compares to his career line -- .272/.329/.384 with 46 HR. Geez.

During his career, Sample was the target for some crazy racist jerks who threatened his life and his wife with phone calls (in the days before caller identification). They did this because Billy Sample married a white woman. Among the stunts they pulled, they called the ballpark and told the Rangers' traveling secretary Dan Schimek that Billy's wife had been shot. That was untrue. They also left a note cut out of magazine headlines that formed a death threat. To Sample's credit, he recognized that it was not endemic to Dallas: "But no matter how much hatred is involved, I'm going to refrain from bad-mouthing the whole (Arlington) area."

These days, Sample is busy with his film work. He is also represented by the same agency who represents Rick Cerone -- which means that yes, you can hire Billy Sample to join you at your birthday party for $750 or to play a pick-up game for $500.  Oddly, on his bio on that page, the tags listed for him are fitness, women's issues, health and wellness, arthritis, knee injuries, multiple sclerosis, and foodie.

When he's not busy acting or addressing women's issues through pick-up games or attending your live fantasy draft (only $500 guys!), he appears to spend a decent amount of time on Facebook. Other than commenting about the call on the game-deciding fourth-down measurement in the South Carolina v. Georgia football game a couple of weeks ago, Sample appears to spend a lot of time finding news stories about "neocons playbook of bullsh*t" in Iraq and, mostly, about how Israel is the cause of all the problems in the Middle East.

I'm not going to argue with him on those news stories. I don't know enough to do it. But to share a video that accuses Israel of "ethnic cleansing, colonialism, and apartheid" is pretty strong stuff. 

Click through if you wish to read them.


  1. I want Billy Sample to be at my house for my birthday party.

  2. Let's get a Kickstarter campaign going for that!