Opinion of Kingman's Performance

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Other Sandy (Part Two)

(continued from previous post)

A biographical piece on Sandy Amoros  would address his following years in the majors, his minor successes and eventual fall from elite status.  Eventually resulting in a trip back to the minors and a trade from the only organization he knew, his return to his homeland and the changes he faced in Communist Cuba.  
1956 was an average  year for Amoros , where he hit .260 with a career high 16 homers.  He even came within an eyelash of breaking up Don Larson’s perfect game.   Larson in his book, The Perfect Yankee, (a batter by batter accounting of his perfect game), said Sandy's slice down the right field line was within 3 inches of being a homer.   But overall  it was a disappointing series and his 1 for 19 performance in the  '56 fall classic was a precursor of things to come.  In 1957 his playing time diminished as rookie all-star Gino Cimoli replaced him in left field.  By 1958 Amoros was back at Montreal in the minors.  The following year he was traded to Detroit, where he was only called up to the big club for part of the 1960 season.  After that, Sandy could only find a full time baseball gig in Mexico, with the Mexico City Reds.  Amoros finished his major league career being one week short of service time that would allow him to collect a major league pension.
It would narrate the story of his relationship with Fidel Castro.  The job offer that he turned down to manage a team in the newly formed Cuban league, and the consequences he faced for standing up to the dictator.  The stand he took against him and the eventual suffering and political persecution that he encountered because of it.  It would address the confiscation of his property, the loss of all his possessions, the political persecution he faced and his struggle to return to the United States.

He was a national icon in Cuba.  A hero everywhere he went.  Children idolized him and in that baseball crazy country, the world was on his shoulders.  But then the revolution happened and things changed.  In 1960, during a friendly pick up game amongst friends, Fidel Castro arrived, with camera crews on hand, he wanted to participate. "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."  (http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1068575/2/index.htm#ixzz1BkHCNLHY)

Fidel Castro at photo op during pick up game.

In 1962 Fidel Castro approached him to be the manager of one of the teams in a newly created Cuban League that Castro created.  There had been talk about Cuba getting an expansion Major League team, but with the change in political climate, that  would never happen.   Amoros was still playing and he wanted to continue doing that by going to Mexico City again.  “I told Castro I didn't know how to manage.  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."   (http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1068575/2/index.htm#ixzz1BglQdcLJ)
It would investigate the Brooklyn Catholic Charities group that stepped up and sponsored Amoros so that he could obtain a visa to return to the United States in 1966.
It would discuss his deteriorating health, his severe diabetes, his drinking problem, the loss of his marriage and family.
Amoros’ decision to reject Castro’s offer cost him deeply.  His celebrity was now underground.  He and his family lived a life concealed from Cuban society.  "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."
A drinking problem developed as Sandy’s restricted activity brought on a deep depression.  Permitted to leave in 1967 along with 64,000 other Cuban outcasts, Brooklyn Catholic Charities sponsored Sandy's family and provided him a coaching job within the Catholic Youth Organization.   

Buzzie Bavasi heard of his plight and consulted with Walter O’Malley.  It was agreed, the Dodgers offered to place him on the 25 man roster for one week so that he could earn a Major League pension.  He brought the lineup card to home plate for one week.  Amoros, who had been nicknamed “Sandy” while a minor leaguer, due to his muscular physique and similar appearance to a popular boxer of the era, Sandy Saddler, was merely a shell of what he used to be physically.  He weighed 140 lbs.  Diabetes was affecting his deteriorating health.  After a nine day period in which he followed the Dodger team to Houston and Philadelphia, he returned to the Bronx where he had a job at a T.V. and electronics store.   But the alcoholism took its toll and his wife and daughter left him and went to Miami.  Shortly thereafter, the store he worked at burned to the ground and he was jobless.

Again, aid arrived as New York Mayor John Lindsey was tipped of his dilemma and he provided him employment in the city’s  recreation department.  That job served as his source of income until Lindsey left office in early 1970’s.  Unemployment followed and deteriorating health as well.  His leg killed him, but pride kept Amoros from letting anyone know.  As his MLB pension started to arrive in 1977, Amoros moved to Tampa and lived off the $450 check and menial labor jobs that he could find.

Amoros ignored the leg problem for ten years until it was impossible to do so, and by then it was too late.  Forced to check in to a Tampa hospital in 1987, gangrene and circulation problems forced doctors to amputate below the knee.  Former teammate Chico Fernandez heard of his situation and contacted Joe Garagiola and Ralph Branca at MLB Baseball Assistance Team (BAT).  They were instrumental in paying Sandy’s medical bills, finding him an apartment and an artificial leg.

Periodic appearances at Vero Beach Spring Training events and in signing ceremonies supplemented Amoros’ income.  He took pride in his baseball achievements.  The lone pitcure mounted on his wall  in his Tampa apartment was a framed photo commemorating his catch, given to him as a gift at a Dodgers Spring Training event in 1985.  But in his last days, he lived in need of assistance in a barren apartment.  Eventually Sandy moved in with his daughter in Miami, when pneumonia and the deteriorating diabetic condition made him completely unable to care for himself.  Sandy died there on June 27, 1992, a few weeks before he was supposed to return to Brooklyn for the Coney Island Sports Festival.  An autograph signing and memorabilia auction was set up, where the proceeds were to help defray his medical costs.  He never made it. 

1956 Dodgers: Furillo, Hodges, Amoros, Robinson, Snider, Reese, Gilliam, Maglie, Alston

I set this project aside about a year ago I had started doing the internet research on it and realized to give it a real chance, I’d need to travel to the backroads of Cuba and to the areas of Brooklyn, Miami, and eventually Tampa where Sandy resided in his last days.  I’d need to seek out former major and minor league teammates that as time passes, are passing away each year.  This is a story that needs to be told. but it needs the proper dedication, research and time.  Time is running out, witnesses to this great story are advancing in age.  I hope it isn’t too late.

Amoros and Mickey Mantle pose at Ebbets Field before 1955 World Series Game


  1. 8/3/2013 I somehow searched for info on how Amoros made out in life. You told me here. I was wondering why the Dodgers did not use him in 1958 and only 5 AB's in 1959 ? He had a terrific 1959 at AAA. Instead, they went with rookies in 1959. Why not Sandy? Glen Pierce

    1. That's a good question Glen. In the '59 championship season, Amoros received a September call up and had only 5 pinch hitting appearances after hitting over .300 at Montreal and an OBP of .402. With the Dodger outfield made up of Duke Snider, Don Demeter, Ron Fairly and Wally Moon, I guess there wasn't room for Amoros as a fifth outfielder. Only Bavasi and Alston probably know the real reason why he was on the outs in the Dodger organization. Two and a half years later I re-read this story and it just seems to get sadder by the minute.