Ruben Amaro doesn’t seem concerned. At lunch at the Penrose Diner on a January afternoon, the 46-year-old general manager looks more like a movie star than a baseball executive, every bit the smooth character we saw splashed on TV screens and front pages when he took over in November 2008. The perfectly coiffed dark hair, the bronzed Latin complexion, the wry, disarming smile. His presentation is impeccable — a sharp suit in a subtle green-and-blue plaid, an expensive-looking brown overcoat folded carefully at his side. As he sips a bowl of seafood chowder, his enormous 2009 National League Championship ring refracts the sunlight in a million different directions every time he lifts spoon to mouth.
Amaro comes from a Philadelphia baseball lineage: His father, Ruben Sr., was a Phillies shortstop back in the ’60s, and Ruben Jr. himself played briefly for the team two decades later. He’s been accused of being a bit smug, like he knows something you don’t. The cat who ate the canary. But that attitude — and his supposed intensity, for that matter — aren’t readily apparent.
Instead, Amaro seems like a regular guy from Philly — witty, unvarnished and self-deprecating. “Dude,” he says, “my job is to just not screw this up.” He laughs at this, a laugh of two parts workman’s gravel, one part smooth politician.
The more he talks about the pressures of this job — the immense stress of not screwing up — the more obvious it becomes that keeping his pride in check is less about diplomatic deference and more about necessity. Amaro knows praise in Philly is fleeting. He lived through it just a year ago, when fans came knocking at his door like a horde of angry, pitchfork-wielding villagers after he traded Lee to Seattle for three minor-league prospects — and broke Kristen Lee’s heart.
“I think people in Philly get fired up that I’m a hometown guy. It’s cool to see one of their own doing this job,” Amaro says. “But I know I’m never going to get a free pass because of that. And I shouldn’t.”
RUBEN AMARO MAY HAVE a handle on where he’s landed, but the pride and intensity — they’re still there, all right. And to really figure him out, to understand how he got the job of general manager and why he seems so good at it, you start by taking a look at the soccer-playing kid.
On the nights before young Ruben Jr. was to start in a soccer match, the Amaro household in Northeast Philadelphia was silent. Shades drawn. Radios off. Total lockdown. Ruben Jr. couldn’t stand even the slightest sounds or cracks of light. The headaches were blinding. Nauseating. Ruben Sr. would try to calm him down. “It’s only a game, Ruben,” he’d say.
But back then, Ruben Jr. treated the game like it meant the world.