Sam Fuld’s route to becoming Phillies general manager was unusual, to say the least.
Less than two months ago, Fuld was a finalist for the Boston Red Sox manager’s job. Over the last two years, he’s been connected to a handful of open managerial jobs — Red Sox, Cubs, Pirates, Mets, Giants — and he interviewed with the Blue Jays after 2018 but withdrew his name from consideration.
Outside interest couldn’t pry Fuld away from the Phillies, and now instead of managing, he’s a 39-year-old, first-time GM under Dave Dombrowski.
“You can probably make the case that the lines have blurred between those two roles (manager and GM) in some ways,” Fuld said Tuesday. “The responsibility of a modern-day manager in a lot of ways is being comfortable with the use of information and being on board with some of the newer ideas that exist in the game. We're certainly seeing that around the industry. I don't think that's any surprise.
“It's a really important relationship. In this day and age, it's as crucial as can be. We need to be aligned in all of the initiatives that we have from the front office down to the field. I think that's where I can help the organization and provide value. I have that player experience and perspective as the player. ... I have so much respect for Joe (Girardi), and I can't wait to further that relationship.”
Fuld believes his experience at that manager/GM fork in the road can put him in an advantageous position.
“I think appreciating what a manager’s role is, especially a modern manager, and putting myself in those shoes, understanding how information can be integrated in a really reasonable and easily digestible way for players,” he said.
“I think in the front office side over the last three years I've been exposed to a lot, lucky that I've been in a bit of a hybrid role so I've gotten to be kind of in the trenches with the team over the last couple of years. In the clubhouse, living that sort of 162-game or in this case, 60-game grind. And then in the winter, I've been exposed more to the front office side.”
Fuld played eight seasons in the majors as a reserve outfielder with the Cubs, Rays, A’s and Twins. He hit .299 with a .409 OBP in 115 plate appearances as a rookie in 2009 but couldn’t stick in a lineup thereafter because of his bat.
He was forced early in his career to think about life after baseball.
“If I’m being honest, I was probably forced to think about it at the beginning of my career because I had no idea how long my career was going to last. I was a 10th-round pick who signed for $25,000 and hit .210 in the first half of my first season and thought I was going to be done, not even get to a full season,” he said.
“So I was always thinking about what’s life after playing going to look like, and there were plenty of instances along my career when I was toiling in Des Moines, Iowa, thinking this is the end. I was, again, struggling at the dish and thinking this might be the time I have to hang up the cleats and think about life after playing. Plenty of instances throughout my career that kinda crossed my mind.”
Fuld’s final season was 2015 when he hit .197 in 120 games with Oakland. He was hurt during the 2016 season and that’s when his focus began shifting from getting healthy to figuring out his next move.
He recalled how moved he was by Michael Lewis’ famous book, Moneyball, which detailed the creative ways Billy Beane and the cash-strapped Athletics found competitive advantages and undervalued players in the early 2000s.
“I was laser-focused on getting back to being healthy and continue my playing career but along the way, you go through a rehab process, your mind goes in a lot of different directions,” he recalled. “One natural direction was, OK, what do I really want to do? And I read Moneyball 10 years prior and that was in some ways where the light bulb went off, recognizing my interests connected with Major League Baseball’s interests.
“Ironically, I played for Billy eight years later and played for the A’s in parts of three years there. Being exposed to the way that they operate, being exposed to the way that other organizations operate that I’ve played for, those were great experiences that sort of paved the way for this current role that I have.”
Fuld had some big decisions to make, and those decisions are bigger when you have a wife and four young kids.
“I think it was pretty clear — my wife would probably admit it before I did — that this was the direction that made the most sense for me and something that really stood out as a challenging, interesting opportunity,” he said. “I’m glad I went that direction.”
Fuld was hired by the Phillies in November 2017 and has been here ever since. His first role was as major league player information coordinator. He worked with Gabe Kapler’s coaching staff to better integrate advanced metrics. With how much data there is to digest on an everyday basis these days, figuring out an effective way to convey the info to coaches and players is paramount.
Fuld also worked with Phillies outfielders, and his most recent role was as the organization’s director of integrative baseball performance, in which he oversaw athletic training, strength and conditioning and nutrition.
He’s done a little bit in a lot of areas. As the Phillies’ GM under president of baseball operations Dombrowski, Fuld will not have final say. But Dombrowski, who is here on a four-year deal, will not be running the show forever. He views this as a chance to groom Fuld for more responsibility down the road.
“I’m not looking to move out because I just started with the Phillies organization, I have a lot of energy and I look to do this for a while,” Dombrowski said. “I’m not, though, 44. I’m 64. And if I’m doing my job correctly and we’re doing our job correctly, as Sam progresses, he will be the guy making those types of decisions, the final decisions. That’s where my goal is.
“I’m at a different phase of my life. I really like to work with young individuals that you can mentor and so I think it’s a lot of fun to do that. And that’s my goal — to be in a position that whenever that time comes, and again, it’s not for a little while down the road, but that’s what the goal is. That time will come at some point.”