Beyond Left Field with Norm: Billy Sample

Billy Sample was the 10th round draft pick by the Texas Rangers in 1976. Sample grew up in Salem, Virginia, and graduated from Salem’s Andrew Lewis High School in 1973. While at Andrew Lewis, Sample was a three-sport standout in football, basketball, and baseball. As a junior wide receiver on Andrew Lewis’ football team, Sample scored the winning touchdown in a 1971 state AAA quarterfinal game. A victory later, Andrew Lewis advanced to the state championship, where Sample’s team lost to T. C. Williams High School – a game dramatized (with historical liberties) in the motion picture Remember The Titans. Sample attended Madison College (now James Madison University) for three years, before being drafted by the Rangers in 1976. (Wikipedia)

1984 Donruss #403Mr. Sample, thanks for taking the time.

What are you doing these days? 

Finishing the last couple of weeks of edits for my movie, Reunion 108, produced from my screenplay of the same name which took top honors at the Hoboken Film Festival in the summer of 2011.  

What was the highlight of your career? 

Unfortunately I didn’t have a meaningful highlight … if you show up for enough of the battles, you’ll win your share, but that signature highlight moment escaped me.  I had one walk-off homer and a lot of diving catches 

I’m going to name a few players, please describe them for us.

1. Bobby Bonds- Tremendously talented, I essentially replaced Bobby in Texas when I came to the big leagues.  I remember having a conversation with him outside of the Giants’ clubhouse during the World Series of 2002 in which he broke down Barry’s swing.  It was mind-boggling to know just how technical the great instructors can be when analyzing something seemingly as simple as a baseball batter’s approach at the plate …

2. Bump Willis- Elliot Bump Wills, one of the most clutch performers I had the opportunity to work with, oh, he would hit .275-.280 with about fifty stolen bases a year as well … There is a Bump and Maury Wills reference in Reunion 108

3. Fergie Jenkins- a great teammate, I think that’s a universal feeling.  Control so great that he could hit a gnat on the outside corner, on either wing 

4. Gaylord Perry- so adept at throwing that alleged pitch that had a strange gravitational pull, that allegedly didn’t apply that foreign or domestic substance until he was in the middle of his wind-up.  Allegedly speaking 

5. Dave Stewart- Strong, tough, athletic competitor, though that Stewart stare only worked when he mastered the forkball, which gave him a natural change-up, without having to alter his arm speed.  I was a teammate with Dave before the proficient forkball, stare not nearly as effective … 

6. Dale Murphy- A lot of fun to be around; as with Brooks Robinson, he throws right, but writes left.  And they both do a lot of writing (signing autographs), as congenial super stars as there are  

What was playing for Don Zimmer like? I thought Don told it to you as about as straight as it could be told, and I’ll always respected him for that, even when it wasn’t necessarily what I wanted to hear.  He was fun to work for as he was crazier than the players … 🙂

What advice would you give to the younger players?  Very little substitute for hard work.  Work on the weaknesses as well as the strengths … and keep in mind, scouts are looking for potential major league something; speed, bat, arm, glove, range, power; something that can separate you from the rest.  Hustling on and off the field doesn’t hurt either.

Is there a player or players that you really enjoy watching today?  I’m partial to middle relievers as I think they are the most unheralded, underpaid, underrated members of the team, yet, such an important part of the 162 game schedule 

Do you have a favorite ballpark and city and why? I liked Fenway, and the Sox were one of the few teams I could hit, so it enhanced the feeling of Fenway for me.  I also liked the closeness of the patrons to the field, though that sun field in right had me wanting to request combat pay 

Mr. Sample, thank you for your time. Would you like to add anything?  It’s a tremendous sport, you can watch baseball every day for decades and still see something different every game.