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Tampa Bay News and Links: Let’s don our capes for Super Sam Fuld

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Tampa Bay Rays Vs. Boston Red Sox At Fenway Park Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Baseball News

Before we had “Bang-ghazi”, before we were grounded by Coronavirus, we had debates about whether MLB was using juiced balls in the regular season, and whether different balls were used for the post season. This Athletic investigation provides some answers ($)

I’m not sure I’m a fan of Austin Meadows’ new haircut, but his doggo is a cutie:

Matt Snyder of CBS has given us his all-time Rays team, and Julio Lugo is his shortstop!

Rays bullpen coach Stan Borowski is on his second jigsaw puzzle of the spring. And he doesn’t like jigsaw puzzles.

Ji-Man Choi makes an appearance in this article on the resumption of baseball in South Korea.

The Rays front office has looked for ways to use this time well. As Marc Topkin reported on Sunday ($),

They’re assembling a program for staff development and growth, a recommended list of books, podcasts and online programs, including topics such as self-help, motivation and language learning. Also, some inter-department presentations and collaborations. For example, if a minor-league coach wants to learn more about analytics.

And they are finding ways to share some of that with their fans. Their mental performance coach Justin Su’a made this video for “mental health Monday”

Remembering past Rays players and seasons

Sam Fuld’s playing career shouldn’t merit much nostalgia if you just look at the numbers. Over a more or less seven year career he accumulated 5.1 WAR. Just over two of those wins came in 2011, when the Rays eked out a Wild Card slot, so let’s take a minute to remember Fuld’s 2011.

Sam Fuld was traded to the Rays as part of a multi-player post 2010 trade with the Cubs. Chicago got Matt Garza; Fernando Perez and Zach Rosscup, and the Rays got a bevy of players who were going to anchor the winning Rays teams of the future: stand out short stop prospect Hak-Ju Lee; outfielder Brandon Guyer; catching prospect Robinson Chirinos and pitching prospect Chris Archer (a trade deemed the Rays best of the decade in this article). Fuld, never a top prospect, had enjoyed a few forgettable cups of coffee with the Cubs.

I recall that he had a pretty unimpressive 2011 spring training, poor enough that I was surprised to see him break camp with the team, especially with the far more promising Desmond Jennings relegated to Durham. But Fuld was out of options; perhaps the Rays were trying to play games with Jennings’ service time clock, and it was Fuld who found a spot on the 25 man roster as the team started the season 0-6.

Overall Fuld didn’t have a fabulous year. In his career year of 2011 he had a wRC+ of 91 — maybe acceptable for your defense-first catcher, but not for your corner outfielder. And despite some webgem worthy catches, defensive metrics like UZR/150 were not in love with his fielding. If we are being honest, a full season of Desmond Jennings probably would have contributed more to the 2011 team than did Sam Fuld.

So why the attention? Probably because we have an idea of the sort of guys we find in baseball and Fuld — short, nerdy — is not it. Fuld is also a Type 1 diabetic, diagnosed at age 10, which means he must constantly monitor his blood sugar, even during games, and he is justly lauded for overcoming this barrier. (You can read more about how he deals with this disease here).

But I also think he provided Rays fans with a slightly magical spark in the early weeks of 2011, changing the narrative of a season that had started off as badly as possible. If you recall, the Rays had traded away Garza and let Carlos Pena go to free agency and it felt as if they had made no effort to improve after a disappointing early departure from the 2010 playoffs.

Andrew Friedman had assured Rays fans that he had a plan, and that plan was...signing the aging Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez to provide some offensive pop. Well, the Manny part of that deal did not go well. In his first five games with the Rays he managed one measly single; he looked slow and disengaged. When he was suspended after testing positive for a PED masking agent I was almost relieved.

And it was at that very low point that Fuld started making catches like this one:

He also ran into a several week hot streak during which time he was getting on base and even showing a little pop — just when the team needed it. Part of his stint of .400 hitting came as the Rays arrived at Fenway Park, not far from Fuld’s childhood home, where he played in front of visiting friends and family. This is famous as the game in which Fuld fell just a single short of the cycle. Why did he fall short? Because he legged out a double in the 9th inning of a blowout game rather than simply stop at first with a single and go into the record books.

He certainly cooled off by May, but continued to play a vital role on the team that would come from behind to win the Wild Card. Here’s a play that showcases both his speed and his hustle:

His early 2011 success was noteworthy enough that he even got a feature article in the New Yorker. And one of my favorite reads about Game 162 was his Grantland article.

The Rays let Fuld go to free agency after 2013, and Ian Malinowski sent him off with a terrific column.

Fuld went on to play another two seasons before suffering an injury that ultimately pushed him to retirement. His baseball acumen and training in statistics had made him seem like he’d be a great fit in a front office, and the Phillies hired him to for such a role in 2018.