Remembering Michael "Sammy" Samuelson, Twins fan and Best Heckler 2012
Michael "Sammy" Samuelson
When Michael "Sammy" Samuelson went into hospice care in mid-December, the move also meant involuntary retirement from heckling the Twins. At the time, I asked him to guess the number of games where he had been in the stands, lobbing his signature long, creative, elaborate taunts at the players. He started counting.
"I've had season tickets since 1988, and that was about 40 games per year, but there were also games at other stadiums," he tallied. In 1997, when the Twins were threatening to contract, he upped his attendance. "I must have gone to 70 games a year for the past 15 years," he continued. "Gosh, I would say a couple thousand."
Sammy racked up those numbers in spite of three kidney transplants throughout his life, skin cancer, leukemia, and an arm amputation. On Monday morning, his long-deteriorating health finally won out over the Twins institution and the team's biggest -- or at least most vocal -- fan. He was 57.
"Now that I'm dying, I wonder if I should have done something else, seen the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Europe," Sammy reflected in December. "But what I love about baseball is the friendships you make."
Sammy started heckling in 1988, when he landed season tickets above the visiting team's clubhouse batting circle, three rows from the field. "I'm not sure why I started heckling, but I think it was the advantage of being right on top of these guys," he remembered.
Sammy was good enough at it that the players started responding. Jim Thome, of 600-home-runs fame, once yelled back, "Go home." Ken Griffey Jr. also had "what I call rabbit ears," said Sammy. "He would hear us and razz us back."
"It was vindicating almost, that your heckling affected that player," Sammy continued. "The key thing was to try to get in their heads. You could almost feel like you were affecting the game."
Sammy developed parameters for his jeers. "You want to be a kind and gentle heckler," he said. "There are three rules: no obscenities, no family, and be obscure and odd."
He was quick to rattle off greatest hits from his own hall of fame. A particular favorite, he remembered, was directed at Tigers player Gerald Laird.
"When I was a kid I hated Richard Nixon, and I hated the Vietnam War," Sammy said. "Nixon's Secretary of Defense was Melvin Laird, and every time this player, who had the same last name, came up, I yelled, 'War criminal.' That's pretty obscure. I'm sure he had no idea. But us old-timers did."
Sammy remembered well when the Twins won the 1991 World Series, and even better, when the team followed victory with a ten-year funk. "That was more fun," he said. "You had leg room, you could show up at the stadium and stretch out."
In 1997, Sammy was on a trip to Detroit to see the Twins play the Tigers when he was hospitalized with kidney trouble. He had already had transplants -- one from his mom in 1966 and one from his dad in 1974. But he didn't let it deter him.
"They put a [catheter] in me," he remembered. "I came to the baseball game just holding the thing in a rainbow bag, with shorts and my tube hanging out."
This was about when he started clocking more games. He would camp out behind home plate with his friends and rabble-rouse. In 2005, he started getting cancers from previous radiation treatments -- skin, bone, muscle. In 2008, his arm was amputated due to complications. Still, he kept seeing the Twins.
Sammy had protested the Metrodome since the late-1970s -- he and his friends brought a casket to the last game at Metropolitan Stadium -- and after he lost his arm, he told his wife, former St. Paul City Council Member Kiki Sonnen, that he didn't think he'd be around to see the Twins play outside again. So when the team moved to Target Field two years later, it was something of a personal victory.
During the move, Sammy's and his friend's seats got pushed back about 13 rows, landing him right next to the owner's box. It made him want to be more polite sometimes, he said back in December.
But he kept on heckling.
For more on Sammy, the Star Tribune's Jon Tevlin talked to him about how to enjoy every day.
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