When you are as likable as Tampa Bay Rays left fielder Sam Fuld—Stanford-educated, known for diving plays in the outfield, and, oh yeah, nearly hitting for the cycle and for a time leading the league in batting average—you are bound to get wider notice, and, duly, he got his Times profile yesterday. Fuld, 29, was seen as a largely irrelevant throw-in among the players the Chicago Cubs sent to Tampa for pitcher Matt Garza, according to Jonah Keri, who just published a book about the Rays. But with the sudden retirement of Manny Ramirez, a spot emerged for Fuld to become the hottest player (batting .348, with seven stolen bases) on one of baseball’s hottest teams (they’ve won eight of their last 11).
What’s remarkable about Fuld, as both the Times notes and Keri noted in a podcast he presciently did with him in January, is that he is both exactly the sort of player whom statistically savvy organizations like the Rays are looking for—above-average on defense, smart at base-running, able to work the count—and is himself a statistically savvy guy who has pursued a masters in statistics and who interned at top sports stats outfit Stats LLC, charting pitches for velocity, location, and pitch-type. “As monotonous as that sounds, I actually enjoyed it a lot,” he told Keri. “I just sat around in this room with about 20 other like-minded guys who enjoyed doing what I did.” Funny, that’s how I spend my day.
The Times doesn’t mention Fuld’s religion, noting only, “Fuld is also the kind of player [Rays general manager Andrew] Friedman wanted to be as an outfielder at Tulane, with similar sensibilities.” And actually, on his podcast, Keri doesn’t either, although I know that Keri, himself a Member of the Tribe, is aware of Fuld’s background. Keri does mention that the Rays very much see Fuld as someone they would like to keep in their organization after he retires from playing, much like, Keri says, Gabe Kapler—also a Jewish ballplayer.
What else? Oh, right: Legend of Sam Fuld. Or, more precisely: #legendofsamfuld has become a popular Twitter hashtag, adorning sayings that are reminiscent of Chuck Norris jokes. “Sam Fuld once struck out just to see how it felt,” reads one. “He didn’t like it. AT ALL. #LegendofSamFuld.” Here’s my favorite: “Manny who? #LegendofSamFuld.” Indeed.
Sam Fuld’s Value to the Rays Goes Beyond Numbers [NYT]
The Jonah Keri Podcast, Episode 16 [Jonah Keri]
Related: The Extra 2% [Amazon]
Earlier: Sam Fuld, Your New Baseball Hero
Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.