When they start counting votes to determine the “comeback of the year” there should be plenty of support for Ruben Amaro, the Yankees’ 30-year-old shortstop. The Amaro story is one of the strangest tales in Yankee annals, with an unexpectedly happy ending. Almost overnight, he regained all the skills he had apparently lost, then became the kind of shortstop he was in 1964, when he won the Gold Glove as the top National League shortstop.
“I can’t explain it any more than anyone else,” Ruben said. “I know a lot of work went into it, but how or when things suddenly came back to me is uncertain. Maybe a lot of it was mental, but that’s all behind me now.”
When Bobby Murcer went into service for a two-year hitch before he started spring training, Manager Ralph Houk counted on Amaro to take over at shortstop. Then came the exhibition season and Amaro looked so bad that the Yankees made a deal with the Dodgers to get John Kennedy.
Kennedy, who had been primarily a third baseman, was handed the job as soon as he reported to the club. Kennedy homered in the Yankees opener at Washington. “I had convinced myself that when cutdown date come, I would be gone,” Ruben said. “I told my wife not to make any plans until I found where I would be playing, but was amazed when I was still around after cutdown date.” “We were returning home just after that date and Ralph (Houk) indicated that he was about to give me another chance at shortstop,” Amaro said.
The Yankees played 25 games before Amaro returned to short and, in that stretch, the infield had earned the name of “The Sieve.” The inner defense made 22 errors, completed only 14 double plays, and balls were bouncing through the infield with disturbing regularity. Nine of the errors were committed by Kennedy at shortstop, and the pitchers were jittery on every ground ball.
With Amaro at short for 36 games, the infield as ripped off 27 double plays and committed only 16 errors. More important, however, the infield is now making plays that would have been impossible for it earlier in the season, and Amaro is the leader of the resurgence.