The Legend of Sam Fuld Comes To Oakland

Not all legends are burly sluggers who smash 50 home runs per year, or tall pitchers who hurl 100 mph and breathe fire. Some legends are born of more humble origins, like, say, from the tenth round of the amateur draft and or as a back-end trade throw-in. The newest member of the A’s is just such an animal. A’s fans used to quirky players and a clubhouse that sometimes resembles a drunken frat house should welcome the team’s latest addition with open arms. The Legend of Sam Fuld is now headed for Oakland.

Yesterday, the A’s signed former Tampa Bay Rays outfielder and folk hero Sam Fuld to a minor league deal. He joins an already-crowded outfield situation in Oakland, but his acumen with the glove and ability to play all three outfield positions should give him an edge on making the Opening Day roster.

At first, it appeared as if Fuld was destined to be more well-known for his upbringing than anything he did on the field. When he initially reached the majors, he made headlines not for his playing ability but for his rather erudite background. Fuld’s mother, Amanda Merrill, is a New Hampshire state senator, and his father Kenneth is a Chairman at the University of New Hampshire. Fuld himself played ball and graduated from Stanford, and even interned at Stats LLC, the company that provides much of the real time data to many major sports broadcasting networks. He’s also seen as an inspirational figure in another light: he made the majors despite having Type I diabetes.

Fuld initially broke in with the Chicago Cubs but, despite hitting .299 in 115 plate appearances in 2009, could never quite stick in the Windy City. Standing at a mere 5’10” and possessing very little power, Fuld didn’t profile as a prospect of any kind, and the Cubs more or less decided he wasn’t worth their time.  In 2011, they  included him as an afterthought in the Matt Garza trade, and Fuld found himself on the Rays to open the season.

The ever penny-pinching Rays had just lost Carl Crawford to free agency, and their experiment with Manny Ramirez quickly proved a disaster, so they handed Fuld the lion’s share of playing time in the early part of the season. Fuld immediately endeared himself to fans with his hustle, speed on the basepaths, and his penchant for making insane diving catches. He quickly became a cult hero in the Tampa area and became a hit on bobblehead night. In 2011, he had a solid season as a fourth outfielder (he hit .240/.313/.360 with 20 stolen bases) as the Rays stormed to a playoff berth on the last day of the season. The Legend was born.

Fuld hasn’t reached quite the heights of national popularity since that first season with the Rays, but he remained a popular player locally. Last year he really struggled at the plate, though, hitting just .199/.270/.267 in 200 plate appearances. The A’s don’t care too much about his bat, however. It’s his glove that they value.

The A’s in recent seasons have made it a point to find quick, rangy defenders in the outfield (see: Crisp, Coco, or their offseason acquisition of Craig Gentry). Fuld fits this mold to a tee. In 268 games over his three seasons with the Rays, Fuld put up some excellent defensive numbers (just check for yourself). All the diving, wall-smashing, highlight-reel catches he made would seem to back those up, as well. With extreme fly ball pitchers like A.J. Griffin and Dan Straily on the staff, Fuld was brought in as a reserve to help turn potential doubles and triples into outs, perhaps in game-saving late-inning situations.

Fuld also plays the game with an outward, charismatic hustle, which was once again what made him so popular with the Rays. He’ll now join Nick Punto to give the A’s two of the scrappiest players in baseball. To A’s fans who couldn’t get enough of the Weekend at Bernie’s dance craze and Josh Reddick prancing around in a Spider-Man costume, I say this: you’re definitely going to love Fuld.