By all accounts, Juan Samuel has had a great baseball life.
He played 16 years in the major leagues. He won the Silver Slugger Award. He was named to three All Star teams and played in the 1983 World Series.
Later he was a major league coach and was briefly the manager of the Baltimore Orioles. Twice he led the league in triples and was a durable players who had the most at bats in the league three out of four seasons.
And despite all of that, he will always represent the shockingly misguided change of direction of a major franchise based upon his half season he spent in New York.
It wasn’t his fault. He was a nice player who had a good career. Just don’t tell that to Mets fans.
The Phillies signed Samuel as a free agent in 1980. A native of the Domincan Republic, he attended the Licey high school in Puerto Rico.
In the Philadelphia farm system, he put up huge numbers in the home run department, was stealing over 50 bases a year and batting over .300. He had star written all over him and was called up in 1983 in time to be on the post season roster.
The Phillies had an aging roster in 1983 with many members of the Big Red Machine having their last hurrahs. One of those players was Joe Morgan, who got some big hits in the 1983 NLCS and World Series. Samuel was a role player in those series, biding his time.
After the World Series, Morgan went to Oakland and room was made for the young Samuel who did not disappoint. OK fine, he led the league in strikeouts in 1984 (he would in 1985, 1986 and 1987 as well.) But he hit for power (36 doubles, 15 homers and a league leading 19 triples) and he could steal (72 bags swiped.)
He was an All Star his rookie year and only the brilliant Dwight Gooden kept him from being named the Rookie of the Year.
The Mets and Cardinals took over the NL East as the Phillies drifted away from contention. But it was not the fault of Samuel, who continued to be the best offensive second baseman NOT named Ryne Sandberg in the National League.
In 1987, he became the first player in MLB history to reach double digits in doubles, triples, homers and stolen bases in each of his first four seasons. His defense was sometime suspect and he did not walk much. But the famous line “You don’t walk off the island” is attributed to Samuel.
In 1989, he got off to a slow start in Philadelphia and the team was in flux with the retirement of Mike Schmidt and all connections to the championship years seemingly cut. The 28 year old Samuel looked like he could be trade bait for a Phillies rebuild.
The team shifted him to the outfield where his speed could be utilized and his defensive issues minimized.
Then in July, the Mets called. The team was trying to reshape their image of a wild and crazy party house. They had already pushed out Kevin Mitchell and Wally Backman. But Lenny Dykstra, the hard nose and grind it out centerfielder, was one of the most popular players on the team. He seemed to represent the never say die quality of the Mets that the fans loved. But his act seemed to be wearing thin with management.
Dykstra and colorful reliever Roger McDowell, another fan favorite were shipped off to Philadelphia, a division rival, for Juan Samuel.
The trade was shocking to fans, who also saw another beloved 1986 Met, Mookie Wilson, traded a few days later.
The entire personality of the team seemed to be gutted in a series of moves. In return was a player seemingly playing out of position and whose production plummeted in his 86 games in Queens.
As a lead off hitter, he batted .228 with a .299 on base percentage with an OPS of .599. He stole 31 bases but Met fans did not care. What Samuel represented seemed to supercede anything productive he did on the field.
Ripping beloved players like Dykstra, McDowell and Wilson out of the Mets seemed to take the brash fun out of the team. The intangible swagger was gone and soon the winning was as well. Samuel, along with other less exciting new comers inserted into the team, did not excite the fans nor produce on the field.
What looked like a young dynasty of cocky guys winning and not caring what you think and endearing themselves to New Yorkers, the Mets were a mismatch patchwork of players who didn’t fit. And soon they didn’t win.
It didn’t help matters that Lenny Dykstra helped lead the Phillies to the 1993 World Series and Samuel was long gone with the Mets by then.
Samuel played only a half season in New York. After 1989, he was traded to the Dodgers for Alejandro Pena and Mike Marshall. Essentially, a reliever and an outfielder… almost exactly what he was traded for with the Phillies.
Samuel made the 1991 All Star team with the Dodgers. who bore no ill will to him. He would play until 1998, sometimes as a part time player, and other times starting.
Eventually he would become a coach for the Tigers, a manager in the Mets system and a member of the Orioles coaching staff. In 2010, he served as the interim manager for the Orioles. He managed 51 games, going 17 and 34 along the way before being replaced by Buck Showalter. Since 2011, he has been a coach for the Philadelphia Phillies, who inducted him to their Wall of Fame at Citizens Bank Park.
Samuel is a beloved Phillies player with a resume and baseball life most would envy. But what he represents to Mets fans is a misguided rebuild. It isn’t fair. But neither is baseball.
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