The world got their first real look at Juan Samuel in October of 1983, whether we realized it at the time or not, and whether you remember it or not.
That was the month the old, old Phils locked horns with the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Nationals League Championship Series, and then the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series.
It took Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez, Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton, Tug McGraw, and Company four games to dispatch L.A., and then…well…they became the dispatchees against Cal Ripken, Eddie Murray, Jim Palmer, and the rest of Joe Altobelli’s O’s.
As it turns out, there’s nothing easy about winning a championship, or even coming close to one, when your average player age is 53.
Juan Samuel, though, was young.
Having signed with the Phils as an amateur free agent in the 1980 at the age of 19 out of the Dominican Republic, Samuel proved himself to be an exciting player in the minors — hitting for power, running like the wind, striking out a ton.
He was a young second baseman on the rise, and the Phillies decided he was ready in late August of 1983.
Samuel played in 18 games through the end of the season, including 15 starts at the keystone, and he started his journey just in time to make the postseason roster.
So, when Phillies manager Paul Owens needed a pinch runner in the NLCS, who did he turn to? Yeah, three of those times, it was Juan Samuel.
And, when Owens lifted Charles Hudson for a pinch-hitter in the fifth inning of Game 5 of the Fall Classic, who got the call?
Yep, it was Juan Samuel.
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Nothing came of any of those October appearances — Samuel died on base three times in the NLCS and flied out to center against Scott McGregor in the World Series as the Wheeze Kids wheezed to a halt.
And, as it turned out, Samuel never did make another postseason appearance even though he spent 16 years in the Majors with seven different teams.
Ah, but he didn’t come up completely empty for his largely unnoticed October efforts.
Nope, Juan Samuel wrangled a rookie card out of the deal.
See, back in the the 1980s, Fleer stood alone among card companies in numbering their cards through some identifiable logic. To wit, they ordered the teams by finish the previous season, then alphabetized the players within each team.
So, card #1 in the 1984 Fleer set went to Mike Boddicker of the world champion Orioles, and card #625 went to Richie Zisk of the lowly Seattle Mariners. (Fleer rounded out their 660-card issue with a run of Super Star Specials and checklists).
And, when it came time to fill in the Phils’ roster in the second team slot, Fleer had to decide which 26 (or so) players to include. And, really, if that’s the way you were building your card set, how could you leave off a guy who had just appeared in the NLCS and the World Series?
You couldn’t, really.
So, Juan Samuel got his first dose of Major League cardboard there on card #47.
And Topps and Donruss, perhaps owing to their (seemingly, at least) more haphazard numbering schemes, managed to overlook Philly’s young postseason “star.”
Or…could it be?
Gotta be just coincidence that Fleer was based in Philadelphia. Right?
This eBay lot throws me right back to what Christmas felt like in the 1980s as a rabid card collector …
A hand-collated 1984 Fleer set in a 700-count box? Yep, it would have sent me bouncing off the ceiling. It’s a great nostalgic hit to see this sort of goody here in 2020.
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