Amaro Jr. takes over reins for Phillies
Longtime assistant GM, former player replaces mentor Gillick
By Ken Mandel / MLB.com
Speculation is over. Amaro is in. Please don’t mess up, junior, that’s all I ask.
PHILADELPHIA — Ruben Amaro Jr. stepped to the plate under a late-September Cincinnati sky in 1998, amid rumors swirling that the borderline Major Leaguer was transitioning from the field to the front office.
As Amaro dug in that cloudy afternoon, Reds catcher Eddie Taubensee asked, “Aren’t you the assistant GM?” After driving in the winning run with an 11th-inning sacrifice fly, he heard Taubensee again, though not as cordial.
“He used a couple of expletives and said, ‘I can’t believe the assistant GM just beat us,'” said Amaro.
Taubensee was right. Amaro, a former Phillies bat boy, would have seven more Major League plate appearances before finishing his career with a .235 average. Shortly after, he accepted the Phillies’ assistant GM job offered to him by Ed Wade in the spring of 1998, embracing the unique and outstanding new path.
A decade later, he stood at the podium at Citizens Bank Park on Monday, having reached an ultimate new goal, shedding the assistant label and taking over as general manager of a team that won its first World Series championship in 28 years.
“I’m ready to continue the leadership that those who have preceded me have developed in Philadelphia,” Amaro said. “While our leadership is changing, our goals will remain the same, and that’s to bring championships here to Philadelphia and to win World Series. I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
Amaro replaces outgoing GM Pat Gillick, who stepped down after fulfilling a three-year contract signed before the 2006 season. Gillick steps aside amid perfect circumstances for the architect of 11 playoff teams with four different organizations, including three World Series champions.
Team president David Montgomery had hoped to persuade Gillick to reconsider his decision to leave as a full-time GM, but settled for the 71-year-old remaining in an advisory role.
“Not only is he well prepared, I believe he is extremely well qualified for this opportunity,” said Montgomery, who selected Amaro over another in-house candidate, Mike Arbuckle. “That’s evidenced by the outstanding contribution he’s made to our club since he’s joined us 10 years ago.”
Amaro’s first assignment will be to represent the Phillies at the annual General Manager’s Meetings, which began Monday in Dana Point, Calif. He was set to fly out Monday afternoon. After that, he’ll have to figure out which free agents to pursue and how to manage a budget that is expected to increase from 2008’s $104 million.
He said keeping pitchers Jamie Moyer and Scott Eyre are top priorities, and he’s already spoken to representatives for both players. Retaining outfielder Pat Burrell may be more daunting and the team is prepared for life without him.
Arbuckle, the assistant general manager of scouting and player development and a part of the organization since 1992, won’t return next season. Reached by phone Sunday, Arbuckle, 58, declined to comment, but indicated that he was prepared to move on after being passed over three times for the position.
His departure is a significant loss for the organization. Under his watch, he and scouting director Marti Wolever supervised drafts that secured Burrell, Cole Hamels, Ryan Howard, Ryan Madson, Brett Myers, Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley, while also signing players like Carlos Ruiz out of Panama. Arbuckle also drafted the six players who landed Brad Lidge and Joe Blanton in trades.
“Clearly his work was very instrumental in getting us to the point that we were on Broad Street last Friday,” Montgomery said. “Mike’s a first-class individual, and on behalf of everybody, we wish him nothing but the best in the future.”
“He’s a very good evaluator, and knows talent,” Gillick added. “Those people are very difficult to replace.”
Amaro believed that he would be able to find a replacement for Arbuckle quickly, and said Chuck LaMar, currently the director of professional scouting, might be “elevated,” possibly taking on Arbuckle’s player development role.
Selecting an assistant will be conducted through an interview process, and Amaro suggested that person isn’t currently in the organization. Wolever and Minor Leagues director Steve Noworyta are also staying.
“There will be some shuffling in our organization,” Amaro said. “There won’t be a whole lot of changes. We don’t need a whole lot of changes frankly. We just won a World Series.”
As assistant GM, Amaro has long been speculated as the person who would succeed Gillick, who was hired in part to mentor Amaro. The 43-year-old was a full-time bat boy for the Phillies from 1981-83 and enjoyed being around Hall of Famers Steve Carlton and Mike Schmidt, along with Pete Rose, Larry Bowa and Bob Boone.
Amaro, who played for the Phillies from 1992-93 and 1996-98, remembered when the idea of switching from a baseball uniform to a three-piece suit was first broached.
“I was in half uniform,” Amaro said. “I had just had a workout in Spring Training [of ’98] and was thinking, ‘I may not make this club, so I better go talk to Ed [Wade] and let him know that I want to continue in baseball.”
Amaro thought that meant helping as a coach.
“When I went to his office that day, he said, ‘I’ve not worked with an assistant. Would you consider being my assistant?’ My jaw dropped. At that point, I said, ‘I want to try and continue to play as long as I can.’ I made the club, [but I] had a terrible year. We had discussions during the course of the year about what my responsibilities would be. [I] talked to my family and said, ‘Let’s make the move. This door’s not going to be open very long, or maybe ever again.'”
Next to going to Stanford University, Amaro called that “probably the best decision I ever made.”
His rise to his new position bears that out. (H/T Phillies.com)
Congrat on your new job, junior. Please don’t mess this up. Mike, I wish you good fortune wherever you land, just as long as it isn’t at the Phillies expense. What, I’m a loyal fan, shoot me.