Sam Fuld appearing as Superman
Ray's offensive numbers might not be stuff of legend, but his glove is his superpower
As a kid, I did believe in Superman, at least the spirit of him. And baseball has always been a sport where Superman fits in. He is Clark Kent on one hand, an everyday man, trying to make it at his job. A world no different than how baseball comes at us every day with players performing through good and bad mornings or good and bad injury reports. On the other hand, he is the superhero we have come to seek in the skies, just as in baseball it takes a Superman spirit to endure, as both fan and player.
Yet Superman had the ability to achieve greatness through powers beyond our reach, despite having a great weakness. He was super not only because of these powers, but because he was human enough to not understand them and sometimes not even want them.
When Manny Ramirez walked out the door, the distortion of Superman may have left with him. Ramirez exited hand-in-hand with a time we called the "steroid era." A time when Supermen were able to hit baseballs onto rooftops and pitchers could throw nearly 100 mph at age 40. No one seemed to age, no one got tired and, worst of all, no one was allowed to be Clark Kent.
But someone walked in the door as Manny walked out. Sam Fuld landed on our planet, a solid minor league player who made contact, stole a few bases and seemed to fly with his glove.
Super Sam had not been in the Chicago Cubs' plans as a solution to much of anything other than a defensive replacement, so they did him a favor and let him soar south to Tampa, cape and all, to finally get the shot he needed to shake the perception of him as an aging, non-starting player whose 30th birthday was on the horizon. His time had to be now.
Through grit and determination, he became an undeniable name in the Rays' lineup, and day after day he was a human highlight reel -- he dove, he climbed walls, he made good decisions, he threw people out trying to take the extra base.
His numbers at the plate do not evoke Legion of Doom fear, especially compared to what we have come to expect from a corner outfielder. He is hitting .227 and he doesn't have the requisite power game (sporting only three homers in 52 games), but he is playing and just about every day. Only in the Bizarro World would we have accepted this kind of offensive production from a left fielder.
Despite his quantifiable work, he has been a force to be reckoned with by his fans and opponents alike, so much so that the Tampa Bay Rays had a Super Sam Fuld Cape Day in his honor on Sunday. Bestowing on him a special day that in the past two decades has mostly been reserved for home run kings and rocket-armed pitchers.
This takes us back. In the '80s, as a fan it was a time when you could expect Omar Moreno or Gary Pettis to be playing every day mostly because of their speed and defense. It was a time when stopping teams from scoring was as important as driving runs in. The power hitter in the lineup was on par with the guy who caught just about everything.
So Larry Bowa played, Ozzie Smith played, Jim Sundberg played, Mark Belanger played, Rick Manning played. No one could get the ball past these guys and it was understood that they needed to be out there every day to be fielding a winning team.
But the obsession with the home run overwhelmed this train of thought and, one by one, these players faded onto Triple-A rosters and into defensive replacement columns. This became the time when these glove men were only needed when the setup man was warming up and holding on to a slim lead. The priority became to score as many runs as possible and then worry about stopping the other team in the ninth inning.
Yet I remember as a fan jumping out of my chair when I saw a great defensive play. I remember how that changed the momentum of a game or gave a pitching staff a boost of confidence. I also remember when I was particularly upset at my offensive performance over a stretch and teammate Curt Schilling said to me, "Don't worry about it, just keep catching that ball."
Super Sam Fuld has helped us find something again. The underdog, the guy who plays it straight, the guy who isn't supposed to be penciled in every day without a second thought -- but is. He has challenged a time when a little pill or a shot made him and his kind fall off of the face of the earth while tricking us into believing that Supermen only do things that no one else can do. That they are supposed to leap Green Monsters, power home runs over Death Valley, see through the weakness of anxiety without emotion. A time when humanity seemed to become irrelevant.
But Fuld also tells us that anything is possible not just for himself, but for the world that watches him play. He is able to leap tall buildings in part because he carries the strength of an honest "everyday" effort on his shoulders. He is relatable; he does not have any particular power other than showing up every day and leaving it on the field with a magic glove that he made with his own hands.
And that is truly what Superman is about. A very human soul almost trapped with powers that he doesn't quite know how to harness. His humanity is what allows him to be real, to be possible even when he sees through walls. Such is the life of a major league player -- with great talent, you worry so much about your performance, your Kryptonite, your arch-enemies, that you forget that you can inspire people by just being human.
The PEDs just gave us and the game hollow souls. Pimping Superman to make him out to be invincible, someone who never had doubt, who used his powers to erase history and destroy mankind. Steroids thought they could make everyone Superman but in reality were just letting Lex Luthor get his way.
So let Sam Fuld be super today, he can wear his cape, play a corner outfield position and not have 25 homers in 52 games, he can crash into walls and get you out of your chair and be hitting .227. Don't worry about the numbers because he has made it and he has made the most of it, with what he has within. And watching him do what he does tells us all that we can be super, if given just a little chance.
Doug Glanville, who earned a degree in systems engineering from the University of Pennsylvania, played nine major league seasons with the Cubs, Phillies and Rangers. He serves on the board of Athletes Against Drugs and on the board of the MLBPAA (MLB Players Alumni Association). His book, "The Game from Where I Stand," was released in May 2010. Click here to buy it in paperback on Amazon.com. Follow him on Twitter: @dougglanville