Though Amaro was never a star, he topped out at 98 hits in 1961, he will forever be linked with two of the most infamous Phillies teams of all time, the 1961 team that lost a still standing record 23 games in a row and the ill-fated 1964 team, that lost 10 straight games and the pennant, in the most famous collapse in baseball history.
Amaro's story is fascinating because not only was he part of one of the most cerebral group of middle infielders ever but because his letters sent back home to his family in that oh so wonderful summer of '64 were so poignant and captured forever what every Phillie fan (yours truly included) was feeling as they, in Cookie Rojas words.."swam a long lake and drown at the end".
Amaro was born in Vera Cruz, Mexico on January 6, 1936 and became a Phillie in 1960, having been acquired from the Cardinals two years earlier. His best individual season was undoubtedly 1961 when he hit .257 and played in 135 games. It was a bittersweet season for Amaro, he was no doubt happy to be starting for the Phils but had to endure a 23 game losing streak that lasted nearly 4 weeks. However, out of the ashes of that streak would develop camaraderie among the players that would carry over into the following seasons. Indeed, Johnny Callison, Jack Baldschun, Wes Covington, Clay Dalrymple, Tony Gonzalez, Dallas Green, Art Mahaffey, Chris Short, Tony Taylor,and Bobby Wine all would become a part of the transformation that would take the '61 Phillies from the depths of the cellar to '64 and the pinnacle of success.
It was quite a ride and was fueled in no small part by the contributions of four very similar infielders from very dissimilar backgrounds. The middle infield of second basemen Tony Taylor and Cookie Rojas and shortstops Bobby Wine and Amaro were incredibly studious players...what they lacked in talent, they made up for by always playing the game the right way. Rojas and Taylor were from Cuba, Wine, a product of New York, and Amaro, from Mexico formed a wonderful middle of the diamond combination.....the cries of "The Days of Wine and Rojas" were heard throughout Philadelphia in 1964.
Amaro sensed early on that this season was magical and began sending letters home to his family, father Santos and mother Dona Pepa. The letters spoke of a team poised and ready to play daily, well coached and alive with talent and spirit. The letters excited his family, and the city of Vera Cruz soon adopted the Phillies as their own! In early September, Amaro sent a letter to his family telling them to prepare to come to Philadelphia for the World Series.... certainly nothing could stop a team with such a large lead.
Unfortunately, after completing a successful 6-4 Western road trip the Phillies came home on September 21st for what they expected to be a pennant clinching....what they got instead was a nightmare of the largest proportions. A team that had never lost more than 4 games straight during the season suddenly lost 10 straight games and the pennant. Amaro's final letter to his parents spoke of the grief the team was feeling and indicating that perhaps they should not plan on coming to Philadelphia after all.
On a personal note, I was an avid reader of The Sporting News and always got my copy on Thursdays. Unfortunately, in those days The Sporting News was always a week behind and I remember vividly getting my copy that featured a story on Ruben Amaro on Thursday night, September 30, the evening that the Phils had just lost their 10th straight. In the article it extolled the virtues of Amaro's play and how he was helping the Phils to a hoped for pennant. The story, written before the collapse, made me cry and cry, much like the Amaro family cried when the headlines in the local paper exclaimed...Cards Win the NL Pennant!
For Amaro and the Phils, it was never again the same for this group.....indeed, Amaro played one more season as a Phillie and then was traded to the Yankees. His career was modest but eventful. He played hard and well for some of the most exciting Phillies teams in the modern era. He remains a Phillie even now, he managed the pennant winning GCL Phillies last year and his son Ruben Jr. is Assistant GM on the Phils. As the Phillies have more and more tried to bridge the gap between Phillies teams and players from the past with the present team it is well to remember that certain players from the past bridge that gap by their very presence in the organization today.....Ruben Amaro of Vera Cruz, Mexico is a wonderful example of that bridge.
So, on this day, Cinco de Mayo, lets give a hats off to one of Mexico's true baseball heroes, Ruben Amaro Sr.