Wednesday, June 11, 2014


Growing up, there was a dude I always admired...and he played for the Texas Rangers most of his career.

When he came to the Yankees for the 1985 season, I was psyched.  His name was Billy Sample.

Over this past weekend, Billy and I spoke on Facebook.  Little did he realize that we spoke once before. Back in the summer of 2003 when my 11 year old son was just a baby.  I'm not sure if I ever told the Bleeding Yankee Blue audience about this, but when all of my kids were born, I made it a mission of mine to send out my baseball cards to baseball players and ask them for their autograph for my son.  I've stayed true to that, collecting many autographs over the years for my 4 boys.  And when they are old enough to have a true interest in the baseball players of years past, I will hand them their book of autographed baseball cards that I put together for each of them and hopefully they'll cherish them as much as I enjoyed making them.

You see, I love baseball, and as a kid, I sent cards out as well. I just figured years later, I would do something that I truly enjoyed for them.  An extension of myself or something... I don't know.

In that mix of players in 2003 was Billy Sample. I sent my letter to Billy, and instead of sending me back a price form to charge me for his autograph like so many try to do, he wrote me a letter, and then another, and another and we corresponded quite a bit in 2003.  Here's a sample, and I'm giving you this nugget and only this nugget because obviously, the conversations are private.

Billy Sample is a stand-up guy, a smart baseball mind, and at the time he was working for MLB Radio.  I was fascinated with his baseball knowledge, his stories and his eagerness to help me put together a card collection for my kid.  In short, he was kind and a helluva guy.

Now, 11 years later we meet again. This time, we spoke about Don Zimmer.  I asked for permission to print this correspondence between Mr. Sample and I because I really wanted to share it with you.  It comes from the heart and it's about Don Zimmer. You'll love it. Rest in Peace, Don Zimmer:

"I played eight years and a month in the majors, and I'm proud of that month! I had eight managers during that tenure.  My favorite one passed away, Don Zimmer.  I thought he told it to you as straight as it could be told, and it wasn't always what I wanted to hear.  A trade late in spring training for Lee Mazzilli in 1982 had me wondering where Lee was going to play.  

I walked into the clubhouse the next morning, and the clubhouse attendant said that Zim wanted to see me. I thought, "Noooooo!"  I was mad going in in those meetings and not all that happy coming out of them, but I could appreciate Zim trying to use the analogy of him backing up Pee Wee Reese when he thought he would get a shot at shortstop in the fifties with the Dodgers. 

As you know, he was quite a character.  One day after a night game in Texas and an off day before going to Toronto, we left early in the morning on the off day. Usually the team would leave later in the evening, as there is no need to be in the home team's city by eleven am.   However, there is a need if you want to get to the horse track and bet on all thirteen races!  And you should have seen this old school Dodger trying to implement the new wave short term performance philosophy directed by the front office!  

He once said to me, 'How many hits will you get in your next thirty at bats, six, seven, eight?'  I reached for the pocket schedule he had on his desk. 'Are we facing both Morris and Petry in the next series?'  The number given had to be re-adjusted. 

If you were around him for any period of time, you have a story. I have more, maybe for another time.

Condolences to his lovely and congenial widow, Soot. The game and the people involved were better because of his sixty-six year association."

Blow your mind? Maybe. For me personally, hearing about the greats through personal stories always makes me all fuzzy inside.  Zimmer inspired many and like Billy said, Zim said it to you straight.  Gotta love that.

Thanks for the sample, Mr. Sample... maybe there will be more. I hope so.

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