September 29, 2010

The Great Experiment

Juan Samuel, 1991 Score

Where were you during the Great Juan Samuel Experiment?

The great experiment of making a center fielder out of Juan finally ended in mid-May ’90, when the Dodgers moved him back to second base, his original position.

I was finishing sixth grade during the Great Experiment. I remember it like it was yesterday. It was difficult for me to focus on my studies, obviously, what with Juan Samuel across the country, trying to adjust to a new position. I only wished I could have helped, somehow.

Every day I would watch the evening news intently, waiting for some indication that Juan Samuel was achieving at least minimal success as a center fielder. But Len Berman never thought to mention Juan Samuel -– he was the Dodgers’ problem now, Len Berman said with his silence -- and for me, no news was bad news.

Was he hitting the cutoff man accurately? How is his range? He needs to be a quarterback out there! These were the thoughts that occupied my mind, while my peers foolishly obsessed over girls and skateboards.

In my heart, I knew what the outcome would be. And so when I heard that the Dodgers had moved Juan Samuel back to second base, after a month-and-a-half of fly balls lost in the sun, and collisions with right and left fielders, and that time his pants fell down out of nowhere, I was saddened, yes, but also relieved. Second basemen, after all, play second base. Still, I wondered how this would affect Juan Samuel, a pawn in the game of the Great Experiment:

For Juan, it had been a humbling experience as his production dropped off dramatically.

Who can blame him? How can a man hit when he is being forced to play defense in an unfamiliar grassy area that defies his natural instincts? Who would blame me for being a poor husband were I ever forced to work on a Saturday? No one. That’s who. If only some happiness could have arisen out of the ashes of this misery…

Happily, Juan didn’t lose any of the skills on the bases.

Amazing. Juan Samuel –- held hostage by an organizational philosophy to mismatch players to positions –- somehow, someway, maintained his ability to run fast. I don’t like to throw the word hero around often, but…

When I think back and reflect upon the Great Experiment, I often wonder what, exactly, sustained Juan Samuel throughout. Was it his toughness? Sure. You have to be tough to catch fly balls instead of ground balls. Was it his aggressive, free-swinging ways and carte blanche attitude? Maybe. Although that probably didn’t help him break out of his offensive rut.

I think, in the end, what most sustained Juan Samuel during the harsh process of inevitable failure was something that defined him as a person: his courtly manners.

Juan, an aggressive free swinger, with courtly manners, was one of the league’s toughest hitters.

When asked several years ago during an interview with Time Magazine about the Great Experiment, Juan Samuel gently placed his salad fork on the outside of his silverware, took a bow, and said politely, “I’d rather not talk about it.”


SJ said...

I thought I was the only one. I was in 4th grade. We had Sister Christine, who was not much of a baseball fan, allow us to watch the live press conference announcing the end of the Great Juan Samuel Experiment.

Jason said...

Sadly, we no longer have Score and their lenghty bios to explain what went wrong with Juan Samuel Experiment II in Baltimore this year. I guess we'll never know!

smedcards said...

Experiment? 1 1/4 seasons is an experiment? That word, I don't think it means what you think it means.