Editor’s note: This previously unpublished interview was conducted in 2008.
Juan Samuel wasn’t the best second baseman of the 1980s, but he was definitely among the most exciting. The former Phillie was erratic in the field and he put up some scarily-bad BB/K rates, but he logged a healthy number of extra-base hits and he ran the bases with abandon. He also had some notable teammates and nearly found himself part of a Schmidt-Samuel-Franco-Sandberg infield.
Samuel, on being the first player to reach double figures in home runs, triples, doubles and stolen bases in each of his first four seasons: “I think there was a little more emphasis on base running and stealing bases back then, especially in the National League. Nowadays, guys are focused more on trying to hit home runs because of all the money involved, plus some of the ballparks are smaller. The guys work out a lot more than we did, too. I don’t see a whole lot of guys trying to steal bases anymore. Just a handful will do that, especially in the American League, where you have the DH.
“The whole game has changed. Or maybe I should say that the players have changed, to where the game is played a little bit differently. I tried to focus on stealing 50 or more bases every year. I knew that I wasn’t a power hitter, even though I had some power. Part of my game was stealing bases, hitting doubles and triples and getting in scoring position in front of Mike Schmidt and the other guys who hit behind me.”
On Mike Schmidt: “I really enjoyed playing with Mike Schmidt. Mike Schmidt was one of those guys that would always talk to me. He would try to teach me certain things about the game. When you’re young, you don’t understand what they’re trying to tell you. Later in my career, I experienced some of the things that he was telling me, but when you’re that young you’re just happy to be out there playing. But he was a great teammate for me, always trying to teach me the game.”
On Ryne Sandberg and Julio Franco: “I was never on the same team with either of them [in the minor leagues] because they were always ahead of me. Ryne Sandberg was a shortstop coming up and Julio Franco was another shortstop. From what I understand, the idea was that they wanted an infield of Mike Schmidt at first, Sandberg at third, Franco at short and I was going to be the second baseman. That was the idea that was kicked around by some of the coaches and front-office personnel. It obviously did not happen.
“The farm system was always loaded. The problem was that you had Schmidt at third base, Larry Bowa at short, Manny Trillo at second — you also had Pete Rose at one point — and Tony Perez was at first base. There was no room for any of those guys to come up.”
On Von Hayes: “Von Hayes is one of those guys who probably got a lot [of abuse] from the fans because they traded five players for him, and a couple of those guys were very popular in Philly. One of them was Julio Franco and another was Manny Trillo, who everybody loved in Philly. He got a lot of flak, but Von Hayes was a very good player. He had some power, he was a good outfielder, he could steal a base. It was just one of those things where, if they trade five guys for one guy — and if that guy doesn’t become Superman — he’s going to hear a lot from the fans.”
On Steve Carlton and John Denny: “Those guys were different personalities and you knew there were times when they needed to be left alone. I can recall one day when John Denny had a bad game and he came in and basically trashed the whole clubhouse. He went into everybody’s locker and took their clothes out and threw them onto the floor. But you knew that in a couple of days he was going to apologize and be O.K. with it. As for Lefty, he was one of those guys who didn’t really say a whole lot, but he was a very good teammate.”
On having played in the 1980s: “I just miss that era, to be honest with you. I say to the guys when they try to compare me, or ask if I played against certain players, that I played mostly National League ball. I grew up in the National League and that’s the baseball I enjoy because of the running game and all of the strategy that goes on. That’s the baseball I like the most, National League baseball in the 1980s.”