Desperate for a quality shortstop, the Cardinals turned to Ruben Amaro and gave him his first opportunity to play in the major leagues. Amaro fielded splendidly but didn’t hit well enough and the Cardinals quickly gave up on him.
Amaro, who died March 31, 2017, at 81, played one season for the Cardinals. Traded to the Phillies after the 1958 season, he went on to have a long career as a player, coach and scout.
Though Amaro’s time with the Cardinals was relatively short, it covered a lot of ground, beginning in Mexico and ending in Japan.
Born in Mexico in 1936, Amaro was the son of Santos Amaro, a powerful hitter who played baseball in Cuba in winter and in Mexico in summer.
As a teen-ager, Ruben Amaro caught the attention of the Cardinals when he played for the Mexican team in the Central American Games. The Cardinals offered him a contract in 1954.
At the time, Amaro, 18, was considering a career in engineering and his older brother, Mario, wanted to be a doctor, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. Amaro saw baseball as a way to help pay for his brother’s education.
“All the time my father played baseball, he didn’t make much money,” Amaro told Jack Rice of the Post-Dispatch. “Maybe I can. I play baseball, Mario goes to medical school.”
The Cardinals sent Amaro to their Class C team in Mexicali, a city situated on the border of Mexico and the United States. Amaro played two seasons for the Mexicali Eagles, batting .285 in 1954 and .305 with 18 home runs in 1955.
Impressed, the Cardinals promoted Amaro to the Class AA Houston Buffaloes in 1956.
Amaro “arrived in Houston with the reputation of being one of the finest fielders in baseball. Possessing a great arm, sure hands and fine speed, Amaro has not disappointed,” The Sporting News reported.
Playing shortstop for manager Harry Walker, Amaro batted .266 with 64 RBI in 1956.
The Cardinals assigned Amaro to Houston again in 1957. When Houston went to Shreveport, La., for a series in May, Amaro wasn’t allowed to play “because of the Louisiana racial law,” The Sporting News reported.
Humiliated, Amaro considered quitting baseball but decided to stick it out after a talk with his father, according to a biography by the Society for American Baseball Research.
Climbing the ladder
Houston won the 1957 Texas League championship and faced Atlanta, the Southern Association champion, in the Dixie Series.
Though Amaro hit .222 during the season, he provided the key hit in the Dixie Series. His two-run home run off Don Nottebart in the seventh inning lifted Houston to a 3-1 series-clinching victory in Game 6.
In 1958, Amaro was assigned to the Class AAA Rochester Red Wings. St. Louis that season primarily started Eddie Kasko at shortstop. In July, when Kasko’s batting average dropped to .195, the Cardinals benched him and called up Amaro, even though he was batting .200 for Rochester.
Stan lends a hand
Amaro arrived in St. Louis on July 15 and was placed in the starting lineup by manager Fred Hutchinson for that night’s game against the Braves. “His name was in the lineup card as soon as his foot was in the door,” the Post-Dispatch reported.
The newspaper cautioned that Amaro “is well known to the Cards as a strong fielder but a weak hitter. His batting is the sorrow of his father, Santos Amaro.”
Sports editor Bob Broeg suggested Amaro’s arrival to play shortstop “provides just another chapter in the club’s almost constant trouble at the key defensive position.” With the exception of Marty Marion in the 1940s, the Cardinals “rarely have known satisfaction at a post which ranks second to none in defensive importance,” Broeg wrote.
In his book “Stan Musial: An American Life,” author George Vecsey said the Cardinals issued Amaro a pair of uniform pants at least two sizes too big. When Musial saw the rookie looking awkward in the baggy uniform, he said to clubhouse attendant Butch Yatkeman, “Would you get this young man a pair of pants so he can play like a major leaguer?”
When Amaro stepped onto the Busch Stadium field for the first time, he timidly watched the Cardinals take batting practice. Musial called out to the players, “He’s playing today. Let him have some swings.”
Amaro was forever grateful to Musial for his kindness.
Starting at shortstop and batting eighth that night, Amaro went hitless in two at-bats against the Braves’ Joey Jay before being lifted for pinch-hitter Wally Moon, but his fielding impressed.
“After two easy fielding chances, his third was a hard-hit ball that made him range far toward third base and deeply,” the Post-Dispatch observed. “It is a testing place for a shortstop’s arm and he met the test well.” Boxscore
The next night, Amaro got his first big-league hit, a double off future Hall of Famer Warren Spahn. Boxscore
Amaro produced six hits in his first 18 at-bats (a .333 batting average) for the Cardinals, but struggled after that.
In 40 games, including 21 starts at shortstop, Amaro batted .224 for the 1958 Cardinals. He hit .364 (8-for-22) against left-handed pitchers and .167 (9-for-54) versus right-handers.
After the 1958 season, Amaro took part in a series of exhibition games the Cardinals played on a goodwill tour of Japan.
When the Cardinals returned home, they traded Amaro to the Phillies for outfielder Chuck Essegian on Dec. 3, 1958. “I cried when they traded me,” Amaro said.
After a season in the minors, Amaro played for the Phillies from 1960-65. He won a NL Gold Glove Award in 1964. Amaro also played for the Yankees (1966-68) and Angels (1969).
After his playing career, Amaro was a scout, minor-league manager, executive and big-league coach.
His son, Ruben Amaro Jr., a Stanford University graduate, played in the big leagues for eight years (1991-98) as an outfielder with the Angels, Phillies and Indians. He was general manager of the Phillies from 2009-2015.
Previously: Why Cardinals were keen on Gene Freese