An extensive Q&A with Phillies GM Sam Fuld

Former MLB outfielder is coming off NL pennant with Philadelphia

February 3rd, 2023

played eight seasons in the Majors with the Cubs, Rays, Athletics and Twins, then capped his playing career with a memorable run in the 2017 World Baseball Classic as a member of Team Israel.

When he hung up his spikes at the age of 35, Fuld knew he wanted to stay in baseball. Little did he know that only three years later, he would be named general manager of the Phillies. Given they’re coming off a National League pennant, it’s fair to say Fuld’s tenure so far has been a fruitful one.’s Mark Feinsand sat down with Fuld during the season to discuss his playing career, his transition to the front office and much more in the latest edition of Executive Access.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. You grew up in New Hampshire. I assume you were a Red Sox fan as kid?

Fuld: Yes. I had no choice in the matter but to be a Red Sox fan. I had some Red Sox fans in the family already; my mother grew up in North Shore, Mass. I don't know how she pulled this off, but she was a big Mickey Mantle fan and also a Red Sox fan. My dad actually grew up in Manhattan and was a New York Giants fan, but once they settled into the town of Durham, N.H., you don't root for anybody but the Red Sox. Your father was a dean at the University of New Hampshire and your mother was a state senator; how did they feel about you wanting to pursue a career in pro sports?

Fuld: I give them a lot of credit; they were excited about it. The two of them having come from educational backgrounds, education was always looked at as the top priority. It wasn't necessarily explicitly stated to me, but I understood that they were happy in their lives and successful in their lives because of the education that they got. I felt that from a young age. While they were athletic and there were some athletic genes in the family, it's not quite the Guerrero family. I think it was surprising and exciting for them, but luckily, they exemplified humility and groundedness, and they had their priorities in order. I couldn't help but feel that and live that out myself. You were drafted in 2003 by the Cubs in the 24th round but turned down a $400,000 signing bonus and went back to Stanford, where you got your economics degree. Was that the deciding factor for you in going back for your senior year, or was it, "I'm going to get better and I'm going to get drafted higher?"

Fuld: There were three things, and you nailed two of them. If I had left as a junior, getting my degree would have been a priority at some point. Just knowing that you can go back to school and solidify that, then have a Stanford degree no matter what happens in your baseball career was a compelling reason to go back. My junior year was also a little bit of a down year compared to my first two years there, so I felt hungry to prove that I was better than a 24th-round pick. Ryan Garko was a year ahead of me and had just finished his senior year. He was undrafted as a junior and had a monster senior year and was a third-round pick. I couldn't help but be affected by that recent history, too.

The third thing was we had just come off of a national championship loss to Rice. My freshman year, we lost in the national championship to Miami. I knew we were going to have a lot of talent coming back my senior year, and winning a College World Series was very much a priority, too. I was so salty from the championship losses, so I think those are the three big reasons I went back. You made your big league debut on Sept. 5, 2007. What stands out for you most about that day?

Fuld: Oh, man. I remember showing up to the ballpark ungodly early, just trying to be a good rookie. I remember just being around the locker room; I was not in camp that year, so I was around Alfonso Soriano, Derrek Lee and Kerry Wood for the first time, and looking back, I was a little bit starstruck. I had been to Wrigley Field once when I played my first professional season; I was playing in Peoria, [Ill.], and I went to watch a game on an off-day. To suddenly be sort of thrust into that clubhouse and not be one of the 40,000 people in the seats, but one of the few performing for that group for the fans, it was overwhelming. I was nervous. It was a lot of new faces and just an overwhelming experience. Nothing but joy and excitement. You have said that when you read "Moneyball," it kind of set a light bulb off in your head about the front office being a potential second career. What was it about the book that impacted you the most?

Fuld: I don't think I had an understanding that other people looked at the game the way I did at the time. I always looked at the game through a fairly objective lens; not to say that I don't value subjective qualities, but I think I appreciate that a lot of good decision-making is rooted in objective evidence-based research. "Moneyball" validated those thoughts for me more than anything. Your access to information at that point 17 years ago was totally different, so it was really neat to read about that as a path to developing really good, quality clubs with limited resources and seeking advantages in a really cutting-edge way at the time. You played for the Cubs, Rays, A’s and Twins over nine years, then you retired in 2017. Following a stint with Team Israel in the World Baseball Classic, you joined the Phillies as a Major League player information coordinator. How did that come about?

Fuld: After the WBC and after a few more months of rehabbing and realizing I was doing nothing but grenading balls 60 feet, I knew my career was going to be over. I spent a couple months just being a dad, playing golf and enjoying a summer for the first time ever. I was starting to explore next steps and was in touch with some clubs that I had previously played for and some people in the game on the executive side.

The interesting part is I had no connection with Philly. My agent had talked to [former Phillies GM] Matt [Klentak] about a potential non-roster invite [to Spring Training]; Matt, who I didn't know, said to him, "I’m not sure how much longer Sam wants to play, but whenever the time comes, we'd love to talk to him." I remember thinking about how Philly stood out as just a really good organization by reputation, I heard good things about Matt, and I knew that it seemed like they were on the up and up, so it felt like a really good environment to at least explore. It felt like a really promising place. Then I got to know the group through some conversation and a late-summer trip to Philly.

I knew I wanted to stay in baseball, but I didn't know in what capacity. When a player steps off the field, you don’t know what it looks like behind the curtain. I was lucky to have some front-office members like Andrew Friedman and the whole Tampa [Bay] group and the Oakland group to chat with and get a little exposure, but obviously you don't really know what an organization looks like as a player until you really dive in. So I didn't know what I wanted to do, but I felt like somewhere deep down the road, some sort of decision-making role in a front office seemed compelling, but I didn't know what that path would look like given my skill set. Matt did an awesome job of identifying a role that fit for the Phillies and for me, so it was a great entry into the game.

I didn't know much on the analytic side. There are a lot of resources you get exposed to when you become a part of an organization that you don't necessarily get from reading FanGraphs or Baseball Prospectus. It had always been an interest of mine; I've always been numerically inclined from getting my economics degree from college, and so I just felt like this was a good intersection of statistics and baseball. In 2018-19, you continued on-field as an outfield instructor, but you were also integrating advanced metrics into game-planning and taking a role in that. You had played with two very analytically inclined organizations in Oakland and Tampa Bay, so how much did your experience as a player with those teams help you in that role?

Fuld: Quite a bit. At that point, the use of advanced metrics and information was more geared toward acquisition decisions and not as much on the development side. I had some exposure as a player to how information can help you, both in Tampa [Bay] and Oakland, but the industry had only just begun to scratch the surface on how to use information and technology to help players develop. I understood that both of those organizations were rooted in objective decision-making.

When I first arrived in Tampa [Bay] it was really impactful to sit down with Joe Maddon, Derek Shelton, Andrew Friedman, George Hendrick and about a half-dozen Rays staff. We sat down for a 20-minute meeting about how they thought I could be better. What they liked, why they traded for me, what they thought I did well and how I could help bring value to the team -- and some specific areas that they thought I could potentially improve upon. It was a player plan that was new and novel to me. That moment stuck out and was really impactful for me, but now the industry has evolved where that’s standard procedure at this point. They certainly were ahead of the times. After working for the Phillies for a few years, were you surprised when Dave Dombrowski wanted to talk to you about the GM position? Were you even more surprised when you got the job?

Fuld: Yeah, I think so. I really had just been focused on doing the best job that I could do in my current role. It had barely been 12 months in my role, and the integrated baseball performance department had just been launched. I was really excited and felt like we were headed in the right direction despite the COVID adversity; we were developing something really special. I had a narrowly focused attention toward the task at hand, which was to help launch a department that we thought was going to be really valuable for the organization.

I was surprised. Dave did a great job when he came on board of just making the rounds, making phone calls [and] learning about our people in our organization as quickly as possible. When we first spoke, we had a wonderful conversation. I had never met Dave and had no history with him, so it was good to understand who he is and what he’s about. It also gave me an opportunity to speak about who I am and what player information is, what integrated baseball performance is. I felt like we had a bond immediately and that this was the start of something special -- but I didn't think much more of it. Then he followed up and asked for me to interview for the GM role, which was flattering. I appreciated the opportunity. What was the most challenging part of that transition for you?

Fuld: I think just getting my head around how my day-to-day was going to change. Going back to when I first took my first job with the Phillies, I thought maybe way down the road at some point in time, I can put myself in a position to be a decision-maker in the organization. Frankly, I hadn't thought too long and hard about what my life would be like as a general manager, so it happened pretty abruptly. The challenge was departing from my previous role and making sure that all the momentum that we had building in that department kept rolling. How do you think your experience as a player helps you in this role?

Fuld: Empathy and understanding of the challenges of being a player is an important part of this role that certainly doesn't require a playing background to appreciate, but I think I will always remember the struggles that I went through as a player and I will always appreciate the challenges that exist in the clubhouse that maybe you don't appreciate without having lived it. Hopefully that gives me some credibility. I don't know how many players down there remember watching me play, but at the very least, if you can speak the language and appreciate some of the challenges they go through, that hopefully gives you a little bit more credibility to seek advantages that would be otherwise challenging. Players always talk about an aspect of their game they want to improve. As an executive, what would be one aspect that you want to improve?

Fuld: One of the things that I've learned a lot from Dave is the ability to capture people's attention in large audiences, small audiences, and provide compelling arguments and reasons to do things. He can hold a room and lead a meeting in a really productive, captivating fashion; that is something I haven't had a ton of exposure to. It's not necessarily something that comes 100% naturally. Hopefully I’ll get some more reps in that realm and continue to find ways to both physically and mentally engage people on a big scale. Do you get that same thrill watching your team win a game that you would have if you were in the handshake line after the game?

Fuld: It’s a good question. It's different. In a lot of ways, I think I appreciate the wins even more now here because it is a direct representation of our work that we do here. As a player, you're inevitably caught up in the ups and downs of your own individual success. It's a much steeper roller coaster ride as a player, so I don't think I'll ever match those emotions, good and bad. But I think on any given night following a win, I feel pretty damn good.