BALTIMORE - One night while Juan Samuel was managing the Double A Binghamton Mets in 2006, he was hit in the face by a line drive and had to be rushed to the hospital. He was still on a table in the emergency room when his cell phone rang. It was New York, wanting to know what the hell was going on.
It seems that shortly after he departed, some roving instructors who were in town talked coach John Valentin into pinch-hitting for one of the organization's top prospects. That was a no-no.
"I had a few guys on that club I had to play every day. Regardless. Couldn't pinch-hit for them. The rest of the guys I could do whatever I wanted with," Samuel recalled with a laugh earlier this week.
The winter before, he managed Escogido in the Dominican Winter League. "That's a different brand of baseball down there. Very short season. Guys come in and play for a couple weeks. If they're not doing good, 'We'll get you somebody.' So you don't really get to know the people you're managing," he said.
Same thing for managers. Samuel was gone before the end of the season.
Those experiences left Samuel - a member of the Phillies' Wall of Fame, starting second baseman on the All-Veterans Stadium team, recipient of the team's Latino Legend Award - ambivalent about managing in the big leagues. He was content coaching third for the Orioles for the fourth year.
Then, a week ago today, he was called in and told that manager Dave Trembley was being fired. He was asked to step in.
"It caught me by surprise," he said Wednesday night, sitting in the manager's office at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. "I had never thrown my name around. I did a couple of interviews here and there, but I didn't think anything was going to come of that. I was very, very happy coaching third base. It wasn't something I was really chasing at all."
Now he admits that he'd like to have an opportunity to see what he can do. "You get a little taste of what it is. And, of course, now you start to rethink. 'Maybe this is something I could do.' It's something I think I'd love to continue now," he said.
At the same time, he understands he might not get the chance. The Orioles are actively considering other candidates, reportedly including Bobby Valentine, Eric Wedge, Buck Showalter, Phil Garner, Davey Johnson, Rick Dempsey, Bob Melvin and Clint Hurdle.
"I was told the situation when they asked me to take over. It was very awkward for me because Dave Trembley and I were very close. The way it was presented to me, they would like for me to take over and they were going to continue to search. It could be 2 months, 3 months, the whole year. It could be 3 years. Who knows? So it does not bother me at all," the 49-year-old Samuel said.
"The way I'm looking at it is that if it doesn't happen for me, it's a good experience."
In the meantime, the Orioles have almost nowhere to go but up. They have the worst record in baseball. Optimism that improvement was on the horizon was undermined by injuries to Brian Roberts, Felix Pie and three closers. Early on they lost several games in which they had once held the lead.
That set a tone. Samuel's only hope is to change the attitude. Stay upbeat. Convince the players to go hard for nine innings, play good defense and keep games close. Convince them that if they do that they can beat teams that, on paper, they might not match up against.
Samuel is just the fifth native of the Dominican Republic to manage in the majors, following Felipe Alou, Luis Pujols, Tony Pena and Manny Acta. That only adds to his sense of responsibility.
"I didn't realize the kind of load you carry for your country. I started getting all these phone calls from the Dominican Republic and people are telling me everything that's being said on all the shows [there], you start to realize it's not just for me and the organization and these guys. You're carrying a weight for your country," he said.
As a Phillies rookie in 1984, Samuel stole 72 bases. That spawned a television commercial in which he uttered the memorable line, "I am the fastest."
He came back to that after getting his first win as a big-league manager on Sunday when Baltimore beat the Red Sox in 11 innings. Adam Jones tried to get him with a shaving-cream pie in the face.
Sammy saw him coming, jumped out of the way, turned to the outfielder and laughed. "I'm still the fastest," he told him with a grin. *