By Jen Kulju
Turks Staff Writer
Outfielder Billy Sample, who played for the Harrisonburg Turks from 1974-1976, was inducted into the Valley Baseball League (VBL) Hall of Fame on Sunday, July 8, 2018. Sample won the MVP Award for the VBL in 1975, a year before he was drafted in the 10th round by the Texas Rangers. Sample had been drafted in the 28th round by the Rangers during his senior year at Andrew Lewis High School in Salem, Virginia, where he excelled as a three-sport athlete in baseball, basketball and football.
Sample figured baseball would be his ticket out of Salem, where he began playing the game at age 12 and spent a good portion of his childhood. He declined to sign with the Rangers out of high school in 1973, and accepted an offer to play at Madison College (now James Madison University) for head coach Brad Babcock in a program that was in its fourth year. Sample worked as a painter to cover his college costs—and donned a Turks’ uniform in the summers to play with and against other college, minor league and pro players.
In 1974, Sample played alongside Gene Richards, who was drafted first by the San Diego Padres in 1975 and went on to set a single-season record for stolen bases as a MLB rookie in 1977. During his time with the Turks, Sample also competed against future major leaguers like Jim Pankovitz, Dave Tobik, Denny Walling and Tom Brookens. “The VBL had players who could play, and I could really measure myself against some of the better players on the Eastern seaboard,” says Sample.
Drafted by the Rangers after his junior year at Madison, Sample played a few years in the minors before making it to the big leagues. He played with the Rangers from 1978-1984, with the New York Yankees in 1985, and with the Atlanta Braves in 1986. “I gave myself three or four years to make it to the majors and made it at the end of my third year, so that was right on schedule,” shares Sample. As for his time in the MLB, Sample says he was amazed by some of his teammates and the talent they emitted—and hopes they occasionally felt the same way about him.
Since retiring from playing, Sample has worked as a broadcaster and writer. He has broadcast for the Atlanta Braves, Seattle Mariners, California Angels, NPR, CBS Radio, EPSN, and MLB.com, and has been published in Sports Illustrated and The New York Times. Sample has “genuinely enjoyed” interviewing more than 800 people throughout his career, and his favorites include Jack Klugman, Tim Daly, Eddie “The King” Feigner, and Willie Mays.
When it comes time for Sample to talk about his own baseball career, he says he “always” mentions the VBL. “I was really happy it was there for me… in a game that I so appreciate.” Read more about Sample and his baseball journey in his new book, “A Year in Pinstripes… and Then Some.”