He looks the same. Still wears #8, stirrups up to his knees and the jog from the third base coaches box to the dugout is the same jog. The uniform, however, is different, dark blue jersey with the orange Mets script across his chest.
“He” is Juan Samuel, manager of the Binghamton Mets in the double-A Eastern League. His team closes out a three-game series at the Reading Phillies tonight and then hops on a bus for a trip to Bowie, MD, and a weekend series there.
After coaching for the Detroit Tigers for seven straight years, the former Phillies All-Star found himself looking for a job during the off-season. He nearly landed a coaching job with the Baltimore Orioles and was offered the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre managerial position. Neither worked out and he accepted the Binghamton job. “It was just bad timing. This is fun. I’ve been involved with baseball since I was a kid,” he said.
Part of a manager’s job is to file reports after every game to the home office. “Yes, I have a laptop,” he laughed. “I do OK with it. I hope we play tonight and not two games tomorrow. That would mean two reports and a bus ride,” he laughed again. Tonight was Wednesday. The 6:35 p.m. start was delayed over an hour by light rain.
“Sammy” stands at the home plate end of the third base dugout while the Reading Phillies bat. His arms are crossed in front of him, a typical pose for a manager, I suppose.
When Binghamton bats, Samuel jogs to third base. He has a pen, lineup card and note paper in his rear left pocket. After every at-bat by his team, he pulls out the paper and jots down notes. Needs info for his post-game e-mail report to New York.
When he took third base at the top of the first inning, a group of fans wearing red Phillies caps behind the third base dugout cheered. Sammy waved and flashed that famous smile of his. He is one of the most fan-friendly players I’ve been around.
Samuel played just 47 games at Reading when he was in the Phillies minor league system, hitting .234 at the start of the 1983 season. He made his debut with the big league Phillies that same season.
Even though he had a very short Reading career, he was among the most popular players to play there. Two years ago, his name was added to the Reading Baseball Hall of Fame, a display located on a wall under the first base stands. He was unable to attend the ceremonies then.
But, the Reading Phillies didn’t forget. Prior to the first game of this series (Tuesday night), John Vukovich, his former coach with the Phillies, and Dallas Green, the director of minor leagues and scouting when Samuel was signed, presented Sammy with his plaque.
Samuel’s popularity in Reading is captured with a quote from him that appears on the menu board of the Snack Shack near the Baseball Hall of Fame: “…the people of Reading and the organization there are total class.” The Snack Shack, by the way, features the world’s best onion rings. Could it be that they are Sammy’s favorite snack?
His managerial season started on the upside but also became near tragic. His team won seven of the first eight games and has struggled since. On April 24, he was hit in the face by a line drive as he stood in the dugout in Binghamton.
A week later, he underwent surgery in a New York City hospital for a broken nose and cheekbone. “My nose was over here,” he said pointing to the right side of his face. “I asked the doctor if he could perform miracles with the rest of my face while he was working on me,” he laughed.
He was cleared by the surgeons to return to the dugout on May 5 and hasn’t missed an inning since.
A smile and a laugh. That’s Sammy’s trademark.