April 2 – Happy Birthday Billy Sample
Selected by Texas in the tenth round of the 1976 MLB Draft, Billy Sample had a strong rookie season for the Rangers two years later when he won the starting job in left field and averaged .292. He was pushed out of that starting position the following year and it took him three seasons to win it back and when he did in 1983, he put together his best big league season, setting career highs in just about every offensive category including a career high 44 stolen bases. He then had an off-year in ’84 and when it looked as if Texas was going to again make him a utility player, Sample let the team’s front office know he wouldn’t mind being traded.
Coincidentally, at that very same time, Toby Harrah was letting the Yankee front office know that after just one disappointing season in pinstripes, he too would not mind wearing a different uniform. So the deal was made on February 28, 1985 and the plan was to let Sample compete with Vic Mata and Henry Cotto to become the right handed portion of a left field platoon with Ken Griffey. Sample won that three-way competition and ended up appearing in 59 games for New York during the 1985 season. He averaged a quiet .288 and since he sat the bench for over 100 games, it gave him a lot of time to observe the craziness of George Steinbrenner’s mid-eighties Yankee organization up close and personal. Sample was shocked when Steinbrenner fired Yogi Berra in April of that year after publicly promising the Yankee legend he’d have a full year in that job.
This guy had always been both outspoken and well-spoken, so when New York dumped him via a trade to the Braves that December, Sample wrote an article for the New York Times documenting his feelings about the mismanagement tendencies of Steinbrenner’s organization. After one year with Atlanta, his big league playing days were over and he got into broadcasting and did a lot more writing about baseball for a variety of top-shelf publications. During his nine-year career, Sample appeared in 826 games and averaged .272 lifetime.