On Oct. 4, 1955, in the bottom of the sixth inning of the seventh game of the World Series, little-known Sandy Amoros of the Brooklyn Dodgers trotted out to Yankee Stadium's leftfield as a defensive replacement for Junior Gilliam. No one thought much of it. On a team full of vibrant, articulate athletes, the part-time leftfielder who spoke little English was about as anonymous as a Dodger could be.
But not for long. The score was 2-0 Dodgers, two Yankees were on base, and Yogi Berra, the best clutch hitter in the game, was at bat. Berra sliced a drive down the leftfield line, a sure game-tying double. Amoros raced toward the foul line, where ball, barrier and outfielder converged. He stuck out his right arm and caught the ball at waist height, spun and pegged it to shortstop Pee Wee Reese, on the fringe of the outfield near third, who relayed it to Gil Hodges at first for a double play.
In effect, the Series was over—neither team scored again. "I never would have caught it," said Gilliam. When newsmen converged on Amoros, he grinned and nodded, repeating over and over, "Lucky, lucky, I'm so lucky."
Thirty-four years later Amoros, 59, is sitting at the dinner table in his two-room apartment in Tampa. Although it's a warm, sunny afternoon, the blinds are drawn, windows are shut, and the place smells musty. There is a gold religious medal around Amoros's neck. Under a white undershirt his belly pushes over the waistband of his old blue slacks. "I believe in God," says Amoros in Spanish, still the language with which he is most comfortable. "But I don't believe God put me in this position. Living like this, my head cannot be right. I hear noises in my mind. Crazy. At least when the baseball season comes, I can concentrate on that. I don't know why I live here. I don't have anything, and nobody can give me what I want. I want my health. Then I could look for a job and meet a companion. I can't even walk to the park to watch kids play anymore. Now I can't feel happy; I can't move from here to there."
Amoros looks down at the empty left leg of his pants. Part of his leg was amputated in 1987. "They said I had some problem with my circulation. I was on the verge of gangrene. My toes started failing asleep. They cut it just below the knee. Everything came all at once. I didn't wish anyone anything bad. Who could I have done wrong for all this to happen to me?"
In truth, things are better for Amoros than they have been. A year ago he was living on a $495-a-month baseball pension in the Ybor City section of Tampa. He was immobile, spending his days balancing his bandaged stump on his walker while sitting on a folding chair outside the entrance to his home. Often he went hungry.
This new apartment is at least clean and without bugs. There is yellow rice and chicken in the refrigerator and a change of underwear to go with the shirts and slacks Don Zimmer sent over when he heard about his former teammate's plight. Still, Amoros says, "I'm lucky I live in Florida. You don't need so many clothes." He often watches television all day while lying on a tattered sofa. After a year with the bandaged stump, he now has a prosthetic device for his left leg and a $400 monthly supplement to his pension, both courtesy of the Baseball Alumni Team (BAT), an organization devoted to assisting retired ballplayers who have fallen on hard times. Yet Amoros's friend Mario Nunez, the maitre d' at the Tampa Bay Downs racetrack restaurant, says, "For a man of his caliber to be living like this is crazy." Says Amoros, "My life is inside me. I don't know what I did to this guy for me to be the way I am."
The guy Amoros is speaking of is Fidel Castro.
Edmundo Amoros grew up in Matanzas, a suburb of Havana, where his father was an itinerant laborer. Amoros made a name for himself in baseball games played beside the sugarcane fields, and in 1950, at age 20, he left Cuba to play outfield for the New York Cubans of the Negro leagues. That winter he returned to Cuba, where he starred for La Haba‚Äö√†√∂¬¨¬±a in the Cuban winter league. During the 1951 season, Dodger scout Al Campanis spotted him in Havana. "I saw him hit a ball on one bounce to the second baseman and nearly beat it out," says Campanis. "That opened my eyes." Soon Amoros had a spot on the Dodgers' minor league roster at St. Paul. He was called Sandy by his new teammates, for his resemblance to the featherweight champion Sandy Saddler. After hitting .337 for St. Paul in 1952, Amoros was summoned to Brooklyn, hailed as the next Willie Mays.
He wasn't. Amoros spent the next five years shuttling between Brooklyn and the Dodgers' AAA farm team in Montreal. He led the International League, hitting .353 in 1953, but in the majors his inconsistency at the plate kept him from earning a regular job for long. While in Brooklyn, Amoros was memorable for his unusual hitting style. "He evidently wiggles his wrists waiting for the pitch," wrote Bill Roeder in the New York World-Telegram, "causing the bat to twitch at the other end and this little action has a strangely chilling effect on those of us in the press box who can tear ourselves away from our comic books."
Besides the Series-saving catch, Amoros did have some distinguished moments. He hit three homers in three days as the Dodgers clinched the pennant in the last moments of the 1956 season. In the Series opener that year he had a key RBI single off Whitey Ford, and in the fifth game he nearly broke up Don Larsen's perfect game with a drive that curled to the wrong side of the foul pole. But by 1958, at age 28, he was finished with the team, spending all of that season and most of the next with Montreal before being traded to Detroit. A year with the Tigers, a 1961 season with their Denver farm team, and then the only job available to Amoros was as an outfielder in the Mexican League. In 517 big league games Amoros hit .255 with 43 home runs. He failed by one week to qualify for a major league pension.
In Cuba he was a hero. The Dodgers had spent spring training in Havana in the 1940s, making Brooklyn fans of the huge crowds that turned out to watch Leo Durocher's teams practice. For a Cuban to have made the Dodgers and star for them in the World Series was a matter of national pride. Even as his major league career wound down, Amoros owned a $30,000 ranch, bought a new car every year and had plenty of money in the bank. Little boys followed him down the Havana streets.
In 1959, a onetime pitcher named Castro seized control of the Cuban government. Among other things, he became well known for his affection for baseball and for his confidence in his own playing skills. One day in 1960 Amoros bumped into him when Castro showed up at a pickup game being played by Amoros and some friends at Santa Maria del Mar. Castro asked to play. "Before Castro showed up we were going to have a good game," says Amoros. "When he came, we had to do differently. We were better players, so it wasn't fun anymore."
Two years later things were far worse. For a long time there had been rumors that Cuba might be awarded a major league franchise. Castro, however, decided to form an entire professional summer league in Cuba. He asked Amoros, who, as usual, was spending his off-season in Cuba, to stay home and manage one of the teams instead of returning to Mexico that summer. "I told Castro I didn't know how to manage," says Amoros. "I could play, why would I want to manage?" Privately, Amoros had qualms about working for the government. Castro did not take Amoros's refusal lightly. He stripped Amoros of his ranch, car, all his assets and cash. Amoros was detained in Cuba and not permitted to report for the 1962 Mexican League season. "Castro would not let me out," he says. "I don't want to talk bad about him." In 1981, Amoros told The Sporting News, "I don't like the guy. I thought he was loco. When I refused [to manage], that's when the trouble started."
Five years later, in 1967, Castro permitted Amoros to join the 64,000 other Cubans fleeing the country for the U.S. Amoros arrived in Miami with his wife, Migdalia, and daughter Eloisa, penniless, 30 pounds under his playing weight and still speaking little English. His only possessions were two tattered suits, four shirts, underwear and a pair of old shoes.
When asked how he had spent those last five years, he said, "I hardly left my house except to go to the corner. I did not go to restaurants or cabarets. Sometimes to the movies. But they are putting on Russian and Czech movies, and I did not understand them well. We lived on two pounds of rice for a month in Cuba. One pound meat for two weeks. Beans? Two pounds a month. For me, Cuba was better before. Castro wanted my daughter to enter a youth organization, but I didn't let her."
Amoros took his family to the South Bronx and began looking for work. Los Angeles Dodger general manager Buzzie Bavasi, hearing of Amoros's situation, decided to put him on the team roster for a week so that Amoros could begin collecting a major league pension. Amoros sunned himself on the Dodger bench once again while the team played the Phillies and Astros. When the week was up, he returned to New York and began selling television sets in an electronics store.
In December 1967, Migdalia divorced him, taking Eloisa with her. After three years, the store he worked in burned down. For six months Amoros was unemployed, until a friend at the New York Post, who had connections in the office of New York Mayor John Lindsay, helped him get a job with the parks department in the Bronx. When Lindsay's term was up so was Amoros's. Two years of unemployment followed.
In 1977, Amoros claimed his first pension check from major league baseball and moved to Tampa, where he lived alone on the money he earned from a variety of menial jobs and from his pension. Finally, his leg hurt so much that he often couldn't walk, and for the next decade, the fiercely proud man told nobody about it. "Who was I going to tell? I figured they couldn't do anything for me," he says. "If I called an old teammate, he might have thought I was faking. When people in pickup games in Ybor City asked me to play and I couldn't, they thought I was a show-off big leaguer, too big to play with them."
Finally, in September 1987 the pain became intolerable, and Amoros was taken to Memorial Hospital. The lower portion of the leg was removed. Because Amoros was still a citizen of Cuba, he could not receive Medicare or Social Security. The hospital absorbed his medical expenses.
A month after the leg was amputated, Amoros heard from Chico Fernandez. He and Fernandez had been roommates, first in Montreal, then in Brooklyn and finally in Detroit. As Dodgers they had driven Amoros's car across the Brooklyn Bridge every night to have dinner in Latin restaurants on Manhattan's East Side. When Fernandez learned of his old friend's problems, he got in touch with Joe Garagiola and Ralph Branca, who coadministrate BAT. By March, Amoros had his new apartment and artificial lower leg. But, as Fernandez knows, Amoros's life is hardly easy. "Right now he is alone," Fernandez says. "Sandy is worse off now because he's better but he still has no one to talk to."
The walls of Amoros's house are bare except for a small painting of him in a Dodger uniform, which he was given at a Vero Beach Old-Timers' Day in 1985. The telephone rarely rings, so there is really nothing to distract him from the TV—the old Westerns and gangster movies and, of course, the baseball games.
Occasionally, usually at World Series time, replays of his catch are shown. "When I see my catch I feel good," he says. "Friends see me, and they give me a call." When the television isn't distracting him, his mood is mostly one of brooding. "Castro took baseball away from me," he says. "He took my money, my house, but most important, he took my love. If he takes $100,000, it's nothing. But he took my life away from me, what I love more than anything in the world. So much could have happened in those years. Who knows? It's not that I would have played ball all my life, but if Castro hadn't been there, Cuba would have had a big league team. So many fans, just like the fanatics in Brooklyn."
Just then, Amoros learns from a visitor that Brooklyn rightfielder Carl Furillo has died. Amoros is clearly distraught.
"That team," he says, "they are all dying. I am going to feel bad. I wasn't in the little group, but I played with all of them. They all liked me and gave me advice. After games I would sit around and listen to them talk. Furillo would try to talk with me. Everybody talks about my catch, but for me that was not the thrill. It all was. I never dreamed that I would play in the big leagues. It was the biggest thing in my life to see all those fine players like Stan Musial, Ted Kluszewski and Willie Mays. It still makes me feel good. It's my memories of baseball that keep me alive."