Obituary: Ron Samford (1930-2021)

RIP to Ron Samford, an infielder for parts of four seasons in the major leagues in the 1950s. He died on January 14 at the age of 90 in Dallas, with his children by his side. Samford played for the New York Giants (1954), Detroit Tigers (1955, 1957) and Washington Senators (1959). His younger brother, Jim Samford, spent four years as an infielder in the minor leagues as well.

Ronald Edward Samford was born in Dallas on February 28, 1930. He went to Adamson High School in Dallas, and he was the starting shortstop on a tough Adamson Leopards American Legion ballclub. The Leopards won the 1947 Texas Division title with a 5-4 win over the Austin Buddies. Samford went from goat to hero during the course of the championship game. He committed three errors in the field, allowing Austin to score several runs. Adamson fought back to tie the game, and Samford redeemed himself with a double to score the go-ahead run in the eighth inning.

Dallas high school student Ronnie Samford. Source: The Austin American, August 6, 1947.

In his senior year of 1948, Samford was selected to the first-team All-State team as a utility infielder. The 18-year-old signed with the New York Giants after graduation and spent several years with the organization’s low minor-league teams. He failed to hit .200 in his first pro season, but the batting average steadily increased over the next few years. He reached the Class-A Sioux City Soos of the Western League in 1951 and hit .296 with 15 home runs. He had also acquired a reputation as a pretty slick-fielding second baseman.

Samford never hit that many home runs in a season again, but his performance must have opened some eyes in the Giants front office. The team moved him to the AAA Minneapolis Millers of the American Association for the 1952 season, and the 22-year-old held his own against some veteran competition. He hit .268 in ’52 and stole 11 bases and then put together an excellent 1953 season with the Millers, hitting 35 doubles and 12 home runs while batting .280. In the offseason, Samford joined the Giants as they went on a goodwill tour of Japan. He was one of three Giants to homer against the Osaka Tigers (Monte Irvin and Hank Thompson being the others) in a 12-0 rout.

The 1954 New York Giants were a veteran team, and Durocher stuck with most of his ’53 starters (aside from Willie Mays, who was returning to the majors after missing most of the two previous years for military service). Durocher vowed to give a good look at his promising rookies like Sanford and infielder Foster Castleman. In the end, however, neither rookie got more than a handful of at-bats. Samford appeared in 12 games, mostly as a pinch-runner or a late-inning second baseman. He went hitless in 5 at-bats and scored 2 runs. He was sent back to the minor leagues in mid-May and played out the ’54 season with the Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League. The Giants had to keep 19-year-old bonus baby Joey Amalfitano on the roster, even though he played in just 9 games all season, and so Samford was the odd man out. Unfortunately, he missed out on the GIants winning the 1954 World Series.

Samford, left, with fellow rookie Foster Castleman. Source: The Knoxville News, April 7, 1955.

Samford went to Puerto Rico in the 1954-55 offseason and ended up on one of the all-time great winter league teams. The Santuce Crabbers, managed by Giants coach Herman Franks, featured both Mays and Brooklyn Dodgers prospect Roberto Clemente in the outfield. Along with Samford, Don Zimmer and Sad Sam Jones were on the team, as were Negro League stars Bus Clarkson, George Crowe and Bob Thurman. You can read a whole Forbes article about it.

Samford started 1955 with the Giants, competing for a job in training camp. His contract was purchased by the Tigers on April 8 for $10,000. He made the team but had just one big-league at-bat, striking out against Baltimore’s Erv Palica on April 26. That was the only major-league action he would see for two seasons, as he spent the rest of 1955 and all of 1956 in the minors, playing for Buffalo and Charleston.

At that point in his career, Sanford had played parts of two seasons in the majors and had yet to record a base hit in 13 games and 6 at-bats. Finally, the Tigers decided to keep him around for the entire season in 1957. He appeared in 54 games as a second baseman, shortstop and third baseman and slashed .220/.276/.275. His first and long-awaited major-league hit came in his 11th at-bat of the year, on April 30 against the Yankees. He singled off Johnny Kucks, but then he went hitless for the entire month of May. In fact, it looked as if he might be stuck as a pinch-runner and late-inning infielder again, but then the Tigers gave him a few starts in late June to give second baseman Frank Bolling a rest. He hit in 6 straight games to raise his batting average from .067 to .276, and then he took over the starting shortstop role as Harvey Kuenn moved to third base. He held the job through the middle of August or so, before spending the rest of the season back on the bench.

Source: Battle Creek Enquirer, December 7, 1958.

The Tigers sent Samford to the AAA Charleston Senators of the American Association for 1958. He had one of his finest offensive seasons, batting .301 with 7 home runs and 75 runs scored. That December, he was sent to Washington in a six-player deal. The Tigers sent Samford, Jim Delsing and Reno Bertoia to the Senators in exchange for Eddie Yost, Rocky Bridges and Neil Chrisley.

The 1959 Senators lost 91 games to finish in last place in the American League. Aside from third baseman Harmon Killebrew, who belted 42 home runs, the rest of the infield was pretty mediocre, so there were plenty of opportunities for Samford to fill in at second base and shortstop. He played in 91 games, which was more than he had done in his previous three seasons combined. He also showed some of the pop that he occasionally displayed in the minors. He hit 5 home runs for the Senators, including one tenth-inning blast that defeated the Cleveland Indians 3-2. “Every time I hit a home run it surprises me,” Samford confessed later.

Samford split time with Billy Consolo at shortstop, and he slashed .224/.262/.342. He and teammates Bertoia and J.W. Porter, both of whom were ex-Tigers as well, got revenge on Detroit by knocking Tigers starter Paul Foytack out of the game on April 30 for a 9-1 win. Samford singled twice, Bertoia had 2 hits and 2 runs, and Porter singled and walked to pace the offensive attack. Michigan native Norm Zauchin also hit a 2-run homer to add insult to injury.

Samford, right, prepares to field a pickoff throw from Senators pitcher Bill Fischer and catch Detroit’s Larry Doby off of second base. Source: Los Angeles Times, May 1, 1959.

Samford was part of the three-team trade in April of 1960 that involved Washington, the Chicago White Sox and Baltimore Orioles. The Senators ended up with Earl Battey, Don Mincher, Billy Gardner and $150,000, while the White Sox got Roy Seivers and the Orioles got Clint Courtney and Samford. The infielder was assigned to the Miami Marlins of the International League and would spend the next four seasons bouncing between a number of minor-league teams in the IL and Pacific Coast League. Samford hung up his spikes after the 1963 season, when he was 33 years old.

In parts of four seasons, Samford played in a total of 158 games and slashed .219/.261/.317. He had 73 hits, including 14 doubles, 2 triples and 5 home runs. He drove in 27 runs and scored 31 times. Most of his time in the field was spent at shortstop, where he had a .952 fielding percentage in 100 games. In what was his last official at-bat on September 7, 1959, he hit a 3-run homer off Baltimore’s Ernie Johnson. (Samford did appear in 4 more games after that, with three defensive stints and a sacrifice bunt in his last MLB game.)

Samford opened Texas Automatic Transmission Parts Inc. with his brother-in-law and co-owned it until his retirement in the 1990s. He was active in his church and was a one-time president of the Ex-Pro Baseball Players Association of Texas. He and his wife, Mary, were married for 52 years until her death. He is survived by their three children.

For more information: The Dallas Morning News

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