Nickname: Tommy, Toots, Sammy
Positions: 2b, 1b, of, manager
Teams: Birmingham Black Barons (1940-1947), Chicago American Giants (1948), New York Cubans (1949)
Height: 6' 1'' Weight: 180
Born: August 31, 1912, Calhoun, Alabama
A slick-fielding second baseman for the Birmingham Black Barons, Sampson was selected to play in four consecutive East-West All Star games in his first four seasons (1940-1943) in the Negro American League. In the last of these games Sampson got the first hit and knocked in the first run in the West's 2-1 victory.
As a youngster in Raleigh, West Virginia, he played sandlot ball, and quit school at age seventeen to work as a coal miner, while playing semi-pro baseball on weekends. He worked eight years in the mines, mostly as a brakeman, and suffered the loss of his right index finger in an accident while trying to jack a coal car back on the tracks after it had jumped the rails. In later years the missing digit caused his throws to first base to break unnaturally, presenting a bit of a problem for some first basemen.
From his beginnings, playing weekend ball at Raleigh, he moved to Portsmouth, Virginia, playing on a faster semi-pro team that played every day. They formed a league comprised of teams from Virginia and North Carolina, and also did some traveling outside those limits. While touring through the South with the team, he was discovered and signed by the Black Barons after a game in Atlanta in 1940.
Birmingham's manager, "Candy Jim" Taylor, taught Sampson the intricacies of baseball. Originally a third baseman, Sampson hurt his arm earlier in his career and moved over to second base for the shorter throw, and, through hard work, taught himself to play the keystone position. After his arm healed, it was stronger than ever, and after fielding a ball, he made all of his throws underhanded, without raising up to throw.
A good right-field hitter, he was a good hit-and-run man and usually hit second in the batting order, maintaining an average close to .300, with respectable power. In 1942 he hit .354, and the next season the Black Barons fielded the strongest team in their history and won their first Negro American League pennant. In 1944, as the Black Barons were repeating as pennant winners, the speedy Sampson, an ideal second-place batter, hit .272 and stole 16 bases, only 2 thefts behind league leader Sam Jethroe.
During the World Series that year, Sampson's playing career was tragically altered when his right leg was broken in a car accident while traveling between cities. Four players were in the car, with Sampson driving, when a drunk driver hit them head-on. John Britton, Pepper Bassett, and Leandy Young were also in the car, but no one else was hurt as badly as Sampson. Britton hurt his thumb, Young had a chipped bone in his hip, and Bassett was just bruised and shaken. Sampson was in critical condition for about a week and missed the remainder of the World Series. His absence from the lineup was a contributing factor in the Black Barons' loss to the Homestead Grays.
After the accident, Tommy served a two-year stint as playing manager of the Black Barons, succeeding Winfield Welch. His play dropped off, with his batting average dipping to .205 and .272 for the 1946-1947 seasons. Following an unspecified disagreement with owner Tom Hayes, he resigned as manager in October 1947 and was replaced by Piper Davis. During the 1948 season, Sampson discovered Willie Mays and recommended him to Davis, who signed him for the Black Barons.
After leaving Birmingham, he played a year each with the Chicago American Giants (.252 batting average) and New York Cubans, ending his career after the 1949 season, to round out the decade. After retiring from baseball, he worked at a variety of jobs, including operating a service station.
Baseball Career Highlights:
"My biggest thrill was during the 1943 East-West All Star game. I was on the West team. Josh Gibson and Buck Leonard were hitting .400. There were 51,000 people at Comiskey Park, and my mother was one of them. I could hear her cheering for me. I could hear her voice above the crowd. That day I played nine full innings."
"After playing in the Negro Leagues, I went home and got a job. I did everything, all kinds of jobs. I even built my home in North Carolina."
Awards, Honors, Titles, Championships,
• East West All Star Classic - 1940-1943
• Negro American League Champions (Birmingham Black
Barons) - 1943-1944
• Negro Leagues World Series - 1943-1944
NLBM Legacy 2000 Players' Reunion Alumni Book, Kansas City Missouri: Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, Inc., 2000.
James A. Riley, The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues, New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc., 1994.