Brooklyn Boro

Sandy Amoros: A blazing star who fizzled out

January 23, 2023 William A. Gralnick
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The stars produced baseball stars in the month of January for Brooklyn’s Dodgers. Don Newcomb, Jackie Robinson, Ralph Branca, Don Zimmer, and Sandy Amoros. For the writer who has to pick but one birthday salute, an eeny-meeny-miney-moe situation results.

For the fans of the boys of summer, each name brings back special memories. Each one has a story etched into Brooklyn history. Each has a moment, or several, a fielding play or clutch hit that becomes branded into a kid’s mind. One player makes it easier to narrow down the choice. He had one moment in time. That would be a phenom in Cuba named Eduardo Isasi Amoros. 

Amoros, born in Havana, or Matanzas, depending on which source you believe, on Jan. 30, 1930, was a bit of a mystery. He tore up the Cuban leagues, but until September of 1955, he was just an OK ball player. Slight in stature, 5 feet 7 inches tall, weighing 170 pounds, part of his mystery was that he was always a homerun threat. Al Campanis, the scout who found him, wrote in his report that Amoros had “mystery wrists.” The very end of his swing came with a snap of those wrists. He launched 43 dingers in his eight-year career, many at “just the right time” moments. But ironically enough, his glove forever placed him in the history books.

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It was game six of the World Series. Playing at Yankee Stadium with its vast outfield, the Dodgers had just come back from a two-zip deficit. The Yanks had two men on and Yogi at bat. Berra, a lefty, was a dead pull hitter. That caused the Dodgers to go with the usual outfield shift teams employed against the catcher. As Berra moved towards the plate, Bums manager Walter Alston had a brainstorm. He brought Junior Gilliam in from left to second for defensive reasons and replaced him with Amoros.

Don Zimmer went from second to the bench. That piece of chess gamesmanship won the game.

Amoros, in left field, widely recognized as the fastest man in baseball at the time, was almost playing center field because of the shift. Then the lefty Berra, facing lefty Johnny Podres, did the unimaginable. He hit it the other way, a towering blast towards the left field corner. Amoros took off. The rest is history. Writing for SABR, Rory Costello asked Amoros how he caught the ball. With his extremely limited English, he replied, “I dunno. I run like hell!”

Yet aficionados of the game say the catch was just a piece of the play. First, speaking later, Junior Gilliam said he would not have caught the ball as a righty. Having caught it, Amoros, whose momentum was carrying him towards the left field stands, wheeled around toward first to hit cut-off man Pee Wee Reese who in turn fired to first, where Gil Hodges doubled off Gil McDougald. 

Even writing about it takes my breath away.

Yet fate can be cruel. The Dodgers traded Amoros to the Tigers. He played one more year, and that was it. Some supposed that his inability to learn English thwarted Amoros’ career. For many years, he had an English vocabulary of two words, one of which was pizza. If a manager couldn’t understand a player to communicate with him, the manager didn’t trust the player’s ability to follow instructions. Born too soon was he. Today teams have translators for Japanese players and there isn’t a team in both leagues that doesn’t have several Spanish speaking players and/or staff.

It was sad. Sandy — so-called for a supposed resemblance to champion boxer Sandy Saddler — was elected to the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in 1978. He also showed great promise in the Negro Leagues, the Dominican Republic, and Triple-A. In the majors, however, he remained a role player, spending just three full summers there along with fractions of four others. 

In author Peter Golenbock’s view, a language barrier hindered his career.

“Amorós had been one of the greatest players ever to come out of pre-Castro Cuba. If he had spoken English, he certainly would have played more because in Cuba, he was a .300 hitter in a fast league, was fleet in the field, was excellent at stealing bases, and was a good bunter. He didn’t learn the language, which was a handicap that kept him from becoming a star. 

To this writer, were it today, Amoros would have been brought out of the Cuban leagues with a check so laden with zeros that he’d have needed someone to help carry it. Yet he fell into obscurity and hard times. His health failed, and he was broke. The Dodgers brought him to camp and kept him on the roster until he’d logged enough games to qualify for his pension.

Here’s how it ended according to his obit in the New York Times by Robert Thomas, Jr. in 1996:

Sandy Amoros, who dashed across the Yankee Stadium outfield in Game 7 of the 1955 World Series and caught a piece of baseball immortality when he turned a deep Yankee drive into a spectacular Series-saving double play for the Brooklyn Dodgers, died yesterday in Miami. He was 62 years old.”

He died of pneumonia at Jackson Memorial Hospital, said his lawyer, Rafael Sanchez. Mr. Amoros, who had a leg amputated in 1985, had been stricken with pneumonia on June 16, just a few days before he was to have been honored in Brooklyn.”

Happy Birthday, Sandy. Your star will always shine brightly for us.

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