Although major league baseball has been gone from Montreal for over a decade now, the legacy of the game remains vibrant there. Fans have to rely on memories instead of being able to root for a team able to make new ones. Fortunately, there are ample fond recollections and players from the past. Among them is former Montreal Expos pitcher, Bill Sampen, who had a short, but memorable stint in Canada.
Following a successful stint with MacMurray College (Jacksonville, Illinois), the right-handed Sampen was a 12th-round selection of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1985. He showed modest improvements every year, earning regular promotions, culminating in an 11-win season at Double-A in 1989. However, the 26-year-old was left available in that off-season’s rule 5 draft and was snapped up by the Expos.
The pickup of Sampen proved to be a shrewd move. Used in a swingman’s role in 1990, he appeared in 59 games (four starts) and was an impressive 12-7 with a 2.99 ERA and two saves. He started off his career with seven consecutive scoreless appearances and never looked back.
Sampen won nine games the following year, but his ERA spiked to 4.00 and his walk and home run totals also went up. He was back to his normal self in 1992, posting a 3.13 ERA when he was traded after the All-Star break to the Kansas City Royals. Hi career went downhill from there, with injuries contributing to his derailment. After unsuccessful seasons with the Royals in 1993 and California Angels in 1994 his pitching career was over at the age of 31.
His major league career lasted a total of five seasons, during which time he was a combined 25-21 with a 3.73 ERA in 182 games. Now, nearly 25 years later, Sampen is still involved in the game, actively coaching youth. He has made his mark on all levels of the game and will always hold a special place for Montreal fans because of his efforts north of the border.
Who was your favorite player when you were growing up, and why?: Bob Gibson and Lou Brock, as I grew up a St Louis Cardinals fan.
Can you describe your draft experience with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1985- How did you find out you had been selected?: I was unrecruited our if high school and played baseball and basketball for a poor Division 3 program. I was playing basketball with some friends when I got the call I had been selected in the 12th round.
What do you remember most about your professional debut?: Professionally, I recall seeing guys I had just watched in the College World Series and wondered if I belonged. My major league debut was in St. Louis against guys I had been rooting for up to that point... Surreal!
In your opinion, who was the most talented player you ever played with or against?: What made them stand out so much?: Barry Bonds was the best I saw and played against. Hall of Famer no matter what, in my opinion.
What is your favorite moment from your baseball career?: My debut and winning my tenth game my rookie year after going five innings in relief in San Diego.
What was playing baseball in Montreal like?: It was different simply because of the culture and their love for hockey....but a great experience!
If there is anything you could go back and do differently about your baseball career, what would that be?: I would do many things differently including push to be a starter rather than just do whatever they asked. I think I could have won 10-12 games a year if I had 30+ starts.
Who was your favorite coach or manager, and why?: Buck Rodgers was a very easy manager to play for.
What are you up to since retiring as a player?: I do baseball training with kids of all ages and skill levels. www.SampsHackShack.com
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