Matthew H. Rusk
The fans had fallen for Lee after Amaro acquired him midseason in ’09, helping the Phils get back to the World Series, and the reaction to trading Lee the following off-season was ugly. A few weeks after trading the pitcher — and claiming publicly that it was a necessary deal to restock the team’s minor-league system — Amaro and his brother were in Dick’s Sporting Goods buying a bike for one of Amaro’s daughters.
“Yo, Ruben, what the hell’s up with trading Lee?” one guy challenged him in the checkout line. Another guy then launched into the myriad reasons why he thought it the stupidest thing the GM could have done. At this, Amaro turned on his signature charm, explaining that it was unfortunate but necessary, that it’s never just black-and-white. Maybe he could’ve used them to handle the negotiations, he joked.
It was the same everywhere Amaro went. Diners, fancy restaurants, alone or out with his family. Strangers telling him how to do his job. “He’s very level-headed about it all,” says his brother David. “It’s me who gets the last word with these clowns.”
Last winter, the clowns were everywhere. Even though Amaro wound up acquiring Halladay at the very same time — bringing to town the best pitcher in the game — it almost didn’t matter.
“Our mother was very upset by all of it,” recalls David. “But Ruben’s played baseball in Venezuela, where you get batteries and beer cans thrown at you. Listening to some guy on the radio scream ‘You’re a moron!’ 25 times in a sentence isn’t really a big deal.”
The only thing that is a big deal to Amaro is the toll all of this might take on his daughters.
“When I got this job, I told my kids, who were nine and five at the time, ‘Remember, right now they like Daddy. In two months they might not like Daddy at all. But just always remind yourself that your Daddy is still the same Daddy.’”
Especially in Philadelphia.
TWO WEEKS AFTER Ruben Amaro took that call from Darek Braunecker, Cliff Lee’s agent, in Barnes & Noble, he began negotiating with Braunecker. Amaro offered a five-year contract at a figure that was probably far below what either of the other two teams was now promising. (Amaro won’t disclose the amount.)
The Lees declined.
And that was okay. Amaro had a feeling they would be back.
Still, there was an endless stream of nights spent pacing his Citizens Bank office with assistant general manager Scott Proe-frock, wondering what more they could do to make this happen, and worrying — always worrying — about what they would do if it didn’t work out.
“What was most agonizing was not being able to tell anyone about it,” recalls Amaro. Not his brother. Not his father. Not his college buddy Esquer.
What’s more, if it got out that Amaro was trying to bring back the same guy he’d sent packing to Seattle less than a year earlier, it would look like an admission that letting him go in the first place was a mistake. And if the deal didn’t work out, Amaro was going to look like a failure.