I recently sent out an autograph request to former Rangers outfielder Billy Sample, shown here on card 577 of the 1983 Fleer set. Sample was drafted by Texas in 1973 but didn't sign until being drafted again in 1976. He played for the Rangers from 1978 through 1984. Sample played with the Yankees in 1985 and the Braves in 1986. Since retirement as a player he has worked as a broadcaster, written a movie, and is working on a book.
For some reason I decided to take a chance and ask Mr. Sample for an interview. I received an email from him agreeing to answer some questions. I sent him a list of questions and he was gracious enough to answer them. Here are the questions and answers.
1. What are your memories of the day the Rangers drafted you in 1976?
The more memorable draft day was 1973, it was the year that David Clyde was the first pick in the draft. Some high school athlete buddies and I were in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina celebrating graduation. There was Carey Casey (football), Charlie Morgan (basketball), Steve Hammond, Wally Hare and Dave Nave (baseball) and yours truly, (football, baseball, basketball, drama-two plays my junior year, debate J.V., my freshman year, and overall Most Versatile in the class) As impressive as that sounds, at our fortieth class reunion a couple of year ago, Charlie was relentlessly teasing me about my ability to steal the ball from the opposing guard only to blow the layup. I was the point guard averaging five points per game, he was the shooting guard going to college on scholarship averaging twenty-four points per, thus I had to accept the teasing abuse. If I drove the lane and you fouled me, you only helped improve my shot. Anyway, the late, great Rangers' scout, Joe Branzell, tracked me down a couple of days after the draft, (remember there was no MLB.com or MLB Network) I picked up the phone in the hotel room. "Bill, this is Joe Branzell of the Texas Rangers, we've drafted you in the 28th round." Now, I knew I wasn't going in the first round, I thought someone in the teens, at least that's what the other scouts were telling me, but the 28th round? I didn't know they had that many rounds. Joe could hear my disappointment over the phone and soothed my hurts feelings by saying, "Well Bill, twenty-three other teams passed over you twenty-seven times!" As if to say, don't blame us for drafting you. I'm sure that wasn't the first time Joe used that line; it was funnier in reflection than at the time, but I don't think Joe really expected or wanted me to sign. I went to Madison College, later, James Madison University under coach Brad Babcock, whose three year old son, Whit, has grown up to be the athletic director at Virginia Tech. After honing my skills in the Shenandoah Valley League collegiate summer league, I left college after my junior year when Joe drafted me again, this time in the 10th round, and I knew beforehand I would sign regardless of the round and made my way to the Rangers' rookie league in Sarasota, Florida, coached by Assistant Farm Director, Joe Klein.
2. What are your memories of your call-up from the minors and your Major League debut in 1978?
I actually detail some of this in a YouTube clip, about my first hit, and I'm also writing about it in my book that should be finished early in the 2016 baseball season. I submitted a manuscript to a publisher of a large publishing house about twenty-five years ago. The publisher said it was good, but the person he answered to said that I didn't have enough name recognition ... whatever ... nowadays it is much easier to publish or self publish and I think my brand is large enough that it will be worth my while, and I do like to express through the written word. Well, let me leave you with this little tease, we (Danny Darwin, Pat Putnam, Nelson Norman, LaRue Washington, Greg Mahlberg and I) left Triple-A Tucson in the wee hours of the morning, had a stop in Phoenix, flew to Chicago, changed planes and got to Milwaukee just in time for the last part of the pre-game workout. I walked into the clubhouse and the lineup card for the Rangers, five games out of first place, had me leading off. Playing immediately didn't bother me, except it had me playing second base. I hadn't played second base in a year and a half, and didn't play it well then. Additionally, I didn't even have an infielders glove.
Here's the link to the YouTube clip Mr. Sample referenced.
3. The Rangers (and others) compared you to Rod Carew when you were a young player. Were you aware of the comparisons? If so, how did they effect your development and the way you view(ed) your career?
Well, the problem was, Dan O'Brien Sr., said those overly flattering remarks about my ability, but Dan was squeezed out of the Rangers' G.M. job and headed towards the Seattle Mariners; former player, Eddie Robinson, the G.M. negotiating my first contract, was not moved monetarily by the comparison, since he was not the author of it. I played against Rodney for most of my career and have seen him from time to time afterwards, and I'm not sure if I've ever mentioned the comparison, for fear that he would have to stifle a guffaw laugh in my face.
4. With baseball being so much of a mental game, did your psychology major in college help you in any way during your playing career?
5. You broke your left wrist in 1981 and strained it in 1982. Do you feel those two injuries coming so close together shortened or effected your playing career?
6. Who was your most memorable teammate(s)?
7. Which manager did you most enjoy playing for?
8. Were any of the characters in your movie, , based on players you knew?
9. What is the most unusual piece of memorabilia you have ever been asked to sign?
10. How has the game changed (if it has) since you played?
Some great answers in there. I will definitely have to give Mr. Sample's book a read when it comes out, seems it will be very interesting. Hope everyone else enjoyed the answers as much as I did. Let me know what you think. Many thanks to Mr. Sample for taking of his time to answer my questions.