Juan Samuel was a player of many talents. He was also a player who did not quite fit any specific role. Samuel had tremendous talent but was a challenge to put to any kind of real use wherever he played. He had a low batting average, good power, and good speed on the bases so that a team might use him as its leadoff hitter, except that he struck out a lot and didn’t draw many walks. Samuel was also not a terrific fielder in spite of his speed.1 The result is that Samuel never quite found the right role for himself.
Juan Milton Samuel was born on December 9, 1960, in San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic. He learned to play baseball on the sandlots of his hometown. Juan’s family eventually moved to Puerto Rico. Juan attended Licey High School in Licey, Puerto Rico. He played amateur baseball in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, where he was discovered by scout Francisco Acevedo.2 He signed with the Philadelphia Phillies on April 29, 1980.
Samuel was 19 years old when he joined the Phillies organization. He was sent to the Central Oregon (Bend, Oregon) Phillies of the low Class-A Northwest League. In 69 games, Samuel stole 26 bases and hit 17 home runs and 11 doubles, finishing the season with a .503 slugging percentage.
Samuel’s success that first year earned him a promotion to Spartanburg of the low Class-A South Atlantic League for the 1981 season. He continued to show promise when he hit 22 doubles and 11 home runs. Samuel’s 53 stolen bases showed that he was a threat whenever he got on base.
The Phillies continued to believe in their young infielder by promoting him to the high Class-A Carolina League in 1982. Samuel played in 135 games for the Peninsula Pilots and was one of the stars on a team that went 90-47. Samuel batted .320 with 28 home runs, 29 doubles, a slugging percentage of .573, and 64 stolen bases.
After his success with the Pilots, Samuel started the 1983 season with the Reading Phillies of the Double-A Eastern League. He continued his hitting ways. In just 47 games with Reading, Samuel had 10 doubles and 11 home runs. This led to his promotion in early June to the Triple-A Portland Beavers. Facing the higher caliber of pitchers did not slow him down. In 65 games with the Beavers, Samuel had 86 hits, including 15 home runs and 14 doubles, and 33 stolen bases. The Phillies were so impressed with Samuel’s progress that they called him up in August.
Samuel made his major-league debut on August 24, 1983. He was the leadoff hitter for the Phillies and his first major-league hit was a triple off Mark Davis of the San Francisco Giants in the third inning. Samuel scored when Giants center fielder Chili Davis made an error as he tried to field the ball. Samuel played in 18 games for the Phillies after his call-up, and the club kept him on the roster for the postseason and Samuel got into three games for the Phillies in the World Series, twice as a pinch-runner and once as a pinch-hitter. His overall performance that year led many observers to predict that he would become a Phillies starter in 1984.
Samuel did well in 1984 spring training, and stuck with the Phillies when the season began. Manager Paul Owens said that Samuel had all the tools to be a superstar in the field with his speed, range, soft hands, and a quick release. “With most rookies, there is almost always an element of doubt in some area,” Owens said, “but the way this kid got to balls in the field and stayed aggressive at the plate, you knew he had the stuff to make it.”3
Samuel played in 160 games in 1984, all at second base, and finished second to Dwight Gooden in the voting for the NL Rookie of the Year Award. He came in 21st in the voting for MVP honors, impressive for a rookie. He was a double threat for the Phillies whenever he came to bat. Samuel showed that he could hit for power by finishing the season with 15 home runs, 36 doubles, and an astonishing 19 triples, the most in the National League that season. He stole 72 bases, breaking Tim Raines’ rookie record of 71 that had been set three years earlier. He also set a major-league record for most at-bats by a right-handed hitter, 701. (He had 737 plate appearances.)
Samuel was named to the National League team for the All-Star Game, but didn’t play in the game.
Samuel did not show any signs of slowing down during his sophomore season. He continued to be a threat whenever he came to bat, hitting 19 home runs, stealing 53 bases, and finishing the season with a .264 batting average and a .436 slugging percentage.
Samuel was an important part of the Phillies lineup from 1985 through 1987. Many observers thought that he might become one of the best players in the game as he continued to put up impressive statistics. In 1987 Samuel led the league again with 15 triples. He also led the NL with 80 extra-base hits. He put up solid defensive statistics when he led all second basemen in putouts (374) and was second in assists (434). He was the first major leaguer to reach double figures in doubles, triples, home runs, and stolen bases in each of his first four seasons.
Samuel’s solid play earned him a spot on the NL All-Star team in 1987. Playing six innings, he was hitless but made several key defensive plays to help the NL win 2-0. Samuel also earned his only Silver Slugger award in 1987 and came in 13th in the voting for MVP. Although he finished the season with some of his best batting numbers, Samuel also led the league in strikeouts. This distinction tied him with Hack Wilson (1927-30) and Vince DiMaggio (1942-45) for the major-league record for consecutive strikeout titles with four.
Samuel’s statistics dropped off after 1987. Although he was still productive, he did not produce as consistently as in his first four years. In 1988 the Phillies moved Samuel to center field. The reason may have been that Samuel led the league in errors by second baseman in 1984, 1986, and 1987.
Midway through the 1989 season, Samuel was sent to the New York Mets. He was traded for Lenny Dykstra and Roger McDowell as the Mets revamped their team. Samuel replaced Dykstra and became the Mets’ center fielder and leadoff hitter. Mets manager Davey Johnson said, “Juan Samuel is an impact player. Whenever I thought about the Phillies the last four or five years, I thought about Juan Samuel. He reminds me of Bobby Bonds. People don’t realize what kind of impact player he is.”4 While Samuel may have been surprised by the trade, he was optimistic and said, “It’s hard for me and good for me. I gained 10 games in the standings in one day. I think the Mets are suited to my kind of baseball. I’m a winner.”5
After he joined the Mets, Samuel continued to struggle offensively. The Mets introduced him after the trade as the impact player they needed to rescue their sluggish offense. But Samuel did not enjoy being the center of attention and he allowed his sensitivities and his anxieties to hinder his athletic skills.6 He hit only three home runs and stole 31 bases after his arrival in New York.
The Mets, disappointed in Samuel’s lack of productivity, traded him to the Los Angeles Dodgers after the season for Mike Marshall and Alejandro Pena. Samuel became more productive as he split time between second base and center field for the Dodgers in 1990 and 1991. He played well enough in his second season in Los Angeles to earn a spot on the All-Star team. He hit a single, his only hit in three appearances in the midsummer classic.
After 2½ seasons with the Dodgers, Samuel was released by the team on July 30, 1992, as he struggled to produce at the plate. He was signed by the Kansas City Royals. Samuel played in 29 games for the Royals at second base and left field. He became a free agent at the end of the season.
Samuel signed with the Cincinnati Reds in the offseason. He played in 103 games for the Reds, in 1993, mostly in a utility role, and was released after the season. In April of 1994 Samuel signed a contract with the Detroit Tigers. The Tigers used him primarily as a backup in 1994 and 1995; he played in a total of 135 games, splitting his playing time between second base and the outfield. Near the end of the 1995 season, the Tigers traded Samuel back to Kansas City for Phil Hiatt.
When the Royals released Samuel after the 1995 season, he signed with the Toronto Blue Jays. He played there for three years as a utilityman and designated hitter. He retired as a player after the 1998 season.
Samuel jumped immediately into coaching after he finished his playing career. He was the Tigers’ first-base coach from 1999 to 2002, then the third-base coach from 2002 to 2005.7
Samuel tried his hand at managing in 2006. The Mets hired him to take charge of the Double-A Binghamton Mets. He led the team to a second-place finish in the Eastern League in his lone season as the manager.8
Samuel returned to the major leagues in 2007 when he was hired to coach third base for the Baltimore Orioles. When manager Dave Trembley was fired in June 2010, Samuel was named interim manager.9 He took over a team that had the worst record in baseball at the time and said he had “full intention to take advantage of this opportunity and see how far we can push these guys.”10 Despite a pair of four-game winning streaks, the Orioles went 17-34 with Samuel as the manager and he was replaced by Buck Showalter on August 3.11
Samuel was offered a position as a coach on Showalter’s staff but declined, saying that it would have been uncomfortable staying on. He said: “It would have been confusing at times for the guys, and they have already been through so much. Sometimes it’s just time to move on.”12
Samuel did not leave the Orioles organization altogether. He returned to his native Dominican Republic, where he spent the rest of the season working as a talent evaluator for the Orioles academy there.
Samuel joined the Phillies coaching staff for 2011. He became the third-base coach when Sam Perlozzo was moved to the first-base coaching position. Samuel was also responsible for working with the team’s outfielders. In 2012 he moved to the first-base coaching box when Ryne Sandberg became the third-base coach. He shifted back to third base after Sandberg was promoted to interim manager near the end of the 2013 season.13 Samuel also took over as the baserunning instructor as well as outfield instructor in 2012.
Reflecting on his work as a coach, Samuel said the biggest challenge to coaching the outfielders was “recognizing, reading the swing, understanding what the hitter’s trying to do, and focusing. I tell the outfielders that, even if we say we’re usually going to play somebody on the pull side, in general, if we get a report that he has trouble against the pitcher he’s facing tonight, he might not pull this guy. You need to read his swing if you see that he’s behind a little bit.”14
Sandberg moved Samuel back to the first-base coach’s box for the 2014 and 2015 seasons. When Pete Mackanin was named the interim manager late in the 2015 season, Samuel again moved across the diamond to third base. As of the 2018 season that remained his post.
Samuel said in 2015 that he looked forward to having another opportunity to manage in the major leagues. “I think that I’m capable of doing it, I’m prepared and I’m ready to do it,” he said. “I got a taste of it in Baltimore and I enjoyed it. It’s something that is my ultimate goal. Before I hang it up I would like to get a shot whether it’s here [in Philadelphia] or somewhere else.”15
Samuel was the third-base coach for the 2013 World Baseball Classic championship team from the Dominican Republic.16 The team defeated Puerto Rico in each of the three rounds, including the Gold Medal game, to become the first WBC champion from the Western Hemisphere, as well as the first team to complete the tournament undefeated.
During his playing career, Samuel collected 1,578 hits and 396 stolen bases, and reached double figures in home runs nine times.
Samuel was a popular player with the Phillies. He was enshrined on the Phillies Wall of Fame in 2008. In an interview in 2016, he tried to make light of his achievements, saying, “Did I really make that much impact in the short time I was there? I think about the other folks on the Wall of Fame – it’s great. I’m glad somebody remembered.”17 Samuel was inducted into the Reading Phillies Hall of Fame in 2004, and into the San Pedro de Macoris Hall of Fame in 2015. In September 2006, in a ceremony at Citizens Bank Park, he received the Phillies Latino Legend Award.
He has three children, a son, Samuel, and daughters Alexa and Noemy.
Samuel demonstrated throughout his long career that he didn’t fit any one mold. First as a player with many talents, he never found one role that suited them appropriately as he played different positions for different teams. Now as a coach, he continues to make his mark. He has learned to adapt in order to help today’s players be successful using his personal experience as a major-league player.
Last revised: October 29, 2022
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author used the Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org websites for box scores, player, team, and season pages, pitching and batting game logs, and other pertinent material. FanGraphs.com provided individual statistical information.
1 Dave Fleming, “14 Players,” Bill James Online, May 25, 2009. billjamesonline.com/article1145/.
2 Stephen Falk, “The Interview: Juan Samuel Is a Stickler for … Well, Everything,” Phillies.com, August 5, 2016.
3 Phil Elderkin, “Young Speedster Juan Samuel Looks Like NL’s Top Rookie of 1984,” Christian Science Monitor, June 4, 1984.
4 Joseph Durso, “Mets Get Samuel for McDowell, Dykstra,” New York Times, June 19, 1989.
6 Tom Verducci, “Pendulum Swings for Juan Samuel,” Newsday, June 18, 1990.
7 Tyler DiSalle, “Phillies 2016 Coaching Staff: Juan Samuel,” ThatBall’sOuttaHere.com, March 11, 2016.
10 Brittany Ghiroli, “Trembley Dismissed; Samuel in as Interim,” MLB.com, June 4, 2010.
11 Tyler DiSalle, “Phillies 2016 Coaching Staff.”
12 “Samuel Declines Post, Will Remain with Club,” MLB.com, August 1, 2010.
13 Tyler DiSalle, “Phillies 2016 Coaching Staff.”
14 Stephen Falk, “The Interview.”
15 Jim Salisbury, “Juan Samuel Eager for Shot to Manage in Majors,” CSNPhilly.com, September 23, 2015.
16 “Phillies Manager and Coaches,” Phillies.MLB.com.
17 Stephen Falk, “The Interview.”