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 Habaña 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."