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Sam Khalifa

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Sam Khalifa
(Sammy)

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[edit] Biographical Information

Sam Khalifa was the first player of Egyptian descent to play in the major leagues. He is the only player to be drafted 7th overall and play shortstop in the major leagues.

He had first come up with the Pittsburgh Pirates in mid-1985, replacing Johnnie LeMaster as the starter at shortstop. He got 6 hits in his first 11 big league at-bats, and hit .238 with 15 doubles in 95 games. In 1986, under new manager Jim Leyland, he shared time at shortstop with Rafael Belliard, but hit only .185 and was back in the minors, playing for the Hawaii Islanders and later the Vancouver Canadians. By mid-1987, he had washed out of the major leagues completely, with a young Jay Bell on his way to claiming the shortstop job in Pittsburgh. In the 1980s, the Pirates used to hand out a "Sammy" award for whichever player made the most boneheaded play after Khalifa failed to live up to expectations and played poorly. He continued to play in the Pirates organization, with the AAA Buffalo Bisons, after that, but he was no longer part of the team's plans. He left the Bisons late in the 1989 season, was suspended by the Pirates, and never returned to professional baseball after that.

Khalifa was born in California while his father Rashad was working on his PhD in plant sciences at the University of California, Riverside. He traveled extensively as a youth, including in Alexandria, in Egypt, and Tripoli in Libya, where he played baseball on a makeshift sandlot, as his father accepted various jobs as an agricultural science specialist. His family eventually moved to Tucson, AZ, where his mother hailed from, and where he was a star football and baseball player at Sahuaro High School. He turned down a scholarship from Arizona State University to sign with the Pirates for a $100,000 bonus.

Sam's father was the founder and imam at the Masjid of Tucson. He was found stabbed to death there on January 31, 1990; the perpetrator had tried to set fire to his body in order to destroy evidence. Rashad Khalifa had received death threats for preaching an unorthodox version of Islam, tinted with numerology, and the F.B.I. had investigated an earlier plot against his life driven by muslim extremists. In the murder case, police found no solid leads, until a cold case unit revived the case in 2006 and examination of DNA evidence led to the arrest of a suspect, who was tried and convicted late in 2012.

Although Sam earned his college degree after his playing career and was in sales for a while, most of his post baseball career has been as a cab driver in his hometown. He also engaged in some part-time coaching work at his old high school.

[edit] Further Reading

  • Paul Brownfield: "Briefly a Rising Star, Forever a Mourning Son", The New York Times, January 1, 2013 [1]

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