Ruben Amaro Sr.: Gold Glove shortstop of the ’64 Phillies


Ruben Amaro Sr.

Ruben Amaro Sr. was one of two primary shortstops for the ’64 Phillies, famed for their misfortune, and the father of Ruben Amaro Jr., who became the team’s general manager. Amaro died late last month, just nine days after Dallas Green, a ’64 Phillies teammate who managed the team 16 years later to its first World Series title, also died. Amaro was a light-hitting shortstop — he had just eight home runs in his 11 seasons — who was valued for his fielding and know-how. “‘He’s got it up here,” Amaro’s manager Gene Mauch said of him, according to Amaro’s obit at philly.com, Mauch, “pointing to his head.” But it was the ’64 Phillies who became a cornerstone of Amaro’s legacy, because of a series of poignant letters he wrote home during the season to his parents in Mexico. Planning a trip his family never made to see Amaro in a World Series he never played in, Amaro bought $1,800 worth of tickets, according to his bio at sabr.org, in preparation (that’s when $1,800 bought a lot of tickets and not two seats for one game at Yankee Stadium). His letters were featured the following March in a sorrowful to Phillies fans but powerful remembrance in Sports Illustrated of their collapse. (A link to the March 1, 1965 story, The Rise and Fall of the Fabulous Phillies, here.)  Amaro had one of his finest seasons for the ’64 Phillies (WAR says 1961 was better), having career-highs in average (.264), home runs (4) and RBIs (34). Amaro shared the position with Bobby Wine, likewise a better fielder than hitter, Amaro getting 323 plate appearances and Wine 319 (and batting but .212). But it was Amaro who won the Gold Glove, and Amaro who finished 21st in the MVP balloting with five votes; he was fourth among Phillies behind Johnny Callison (2nd), Richie Allen (7th) and Jim Bunning (13th); Chris Short was 23rd. The Phillies were in and out of first place until late July, when they built on their lead over the next month, and the excitement came through Amaro’s letters as surely as fans through the turnstiles at old Connie Mack Stadium. From William Leggett’s March 1, 1965 Sports Illustrated feature: “Ruben Amaro, the fancy-fielding 28-year-old infielder, began writing weekly letters to his mother and father, who live in a pale-blue two-story house in Veracruz, Mexico. The letters excited Amaro’s father, Santos, a longtime baseball fan, as well as his mother, Dona Pepa. ‘Dear Papa and Mama,’ one began, ‘We have a fine team. It is a moving team, very well adjusted. At the rate we are going, with the favor of God we will win the pennant, and we all are sure that if we win the National League pennant we also defeat any of the American League contenders. There is nobody in both leagues capable of defeating our team, not even the hated Yankees.’ Each morning Santos Amaro would be up at 7 waiting for the local paper, Dictamen, to arrive. Dona Pepa’s voice would sound anxiously from the bedroom, ‘What happened, Amaro? They won or lost?’ More often than not her husband would holler back happily, ‘They won, old woman! They won!’ ‘Did Ruben play?’ she would ask. ‘Did he bat any hits?’ When Santos said ‘Yes,’ Dona Pepa would dress herself and go down to the market and tell everyone about Ruben, occasionally waving a bunch of celery in the air for emphasis as she described Ruben’s play. The Phillies became Veracruz’ team. At night Dona Pepa would ask her husband, who had once managed the Aguilas of Veracruz in the Mexican League, endless questions. ‘Amaro, you think the Phillies will win the pennant?’ she often would ask. ‘Be calm, old girl’ he’d answer. ‘In baseball anything can happen.’ “ Santos was more than a fan — he was a standout player in Cuba who met his wife while playing in Mexico and, like his son, he was wise in the ways of baseball. But before the collapse, the Phillies built their lead; one game ahead on July 21, they were seven-and-a-half games ahead a month later. From Leggett’s 1965 Sports Illustrated feature: “The lead lengthened and Ruben Amaro began to dream dreams of the World Series. He wrote to Veracruz: ‘Dear Papa and Mama, We are playing the best baseball of both leagues and nothing will stop us now. I want you and Mama and Teresa (Ruben’s 8-year-old sister) to get ready to come to Philadelphia. I will wire you the money for the tickets, but you better start packing….” They were heady days for the ’64 Phillies, who seemed so sure. And yet Santos’ words were haunting: “In baseball anything can happen,” and to the ’64 Phillies it did. Willie Davis stole home in the 16th inning against Morrie Stevens, making his first big-league appearance of the season; Chico Ruiz stole home with Hall of Famer Frank Robinson batting; the Phillies lost seven in a row at home, three more on the road and a six-and-a-half game lead disappeared. The journey for Amaro to bring his family from Veracruz for the World Series was more formidable than he had thought. From Sports Illustrated: “Amaro had been booed unmercifully, while a sign saying, ‘Amaro for MVP’ hung from the stands. By now he had stopped writing home. His father kept saying over and over, ‘What in hell is wrong with these kids? They are not batting worth a damn.’ Dona Pepa no longer waved celery in the market, and her husband tried to soothe her. ‘Every team goes into a slump now and then, old girl. They soon come out of them.’ Dona Pepa sat in silence and prayed.” It was too late. The Phillies lost 10 in a row, and by the time they won again, they were in second place. All their last two victories of the season did was deprive the Reds, who had started the Phillies’ slide, the pennant the Phillies once seemed so sure of. From Sports Illustrated: “Ruben Amaro’s last letter of the season arrived in Veracruz while the Phils were on their way to Cincinnati. ‘Dear Papa and Mama,’ it began, ‘Something is wrong with the team. We are all defeated before we start playing. Nothing is right, we just lose games. I have no words to tell you what is wrong. You know by the papers that we are a losing team, but we will keep on fighting to the end…. Perhaps I planned too far ahead when I asked you to come to Philadelphia.’ On the day when Dictamen arrived at the Amaros’ home in Veracruz with the headline, THE CARDS WIN THE PENNANT, Dona Pepa collapsed in tears. ‘I have only cried twice in my life’ she said later. ‘The first time was one day in Cuba. Amaro was playing with Almendares against Havana. It was Sunday, and the game was decisive and Havana won. At the last part of the game I broke out crying. The other time is when I see the headline about the Cardinals. Oh, my son, my son, I kept on sobbing. Later Santos and Dona Pepa wrote to Ruben: ‘It’s all right son, don’t worry. Next year the team will make it.” The Cardinals won the ’64 World Series as the Phillies could only watch and wonder. The ’65 Phillies, despite Santos’ forecast, were never a serious contender — they got as close as four-and-a-half games after beating the first-place Dodgers on August 16, but they were in fifth place and went 21-22 from there, dropping one position and seven games. Amaro hit just .212, and after the season he was traded to the “hated” Yankees for utility infielder Phil Linz, whose harmonica playing had so angered Yankees manager Yogi Berra in 1964. Amaro played four more seasons, though only extensively in 1967. The letters Amaro sent to his family, according to sabr.org, were thrown away when his parents cleaned the house seven years later. Sixteen years after the ’64 Phillies collapsed, the 1980 Phillies finally won the World Series Amaro had predicted in his correspondence to his parents. The Phillies’ first-base coach in 1980 was Ruben Amaro. “When we won it all, it was fabulous, extraordinary, but nothing is ever going to make up for our loss in 1964,” Amaro said, according to his obit at philly.com. Career numbers: .234 average, 505 hits, .309 on-base percentage, .292 slugging, .601 OPS, 8 home runs, 75 doubles, 13 triples (nine in 1961), 156 RBIs, 211 runs, 156 RBIs, 11-25 stealing, 2.3 WAR (2.5 in ’61 when he hit .257 with a .351 on-base percentage and .700 OPS; 0.5 in ’64). 

Sports Illustrated cover

Sports Illustrated cover from March 1, 1965, the edition which ran William Leggett’s feature of the ’64 Phillies’ collapse. The ’65 Phillies tried again, without success. Future Senator Jim Bunning won 19 games, 15 more than the pitcher he shared the cover with, Bo Belinsky, who joined the team that spring. Belinsky was one of several veteran acquisitions the Phillies made in the aftermath of 1964 which backfired, costing them lefty pitcher Rudy May, who went on to win 152 games over the next 16 seasons, or 145 more, from that point on, than Belinsky, who was 4-11 with a 4.61 ERA in 39 games as a Phillie, and couldn’t stay in the rotation (it wasn’t as bad as Hall of Famer Ferguson Jenkins and outfielder Adolfo Phillips for Larry Jackson and Bob Buhl, but it wasn’t good). Also, note the newsstand price of 35 cents; today that might cover the index.

Advertisements
This entry was posted in baseball, remembrances and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s