Bill Conlin: Ruben's success makes Conlin smile

Posted: March 14, 2011

CLEARWATER, Fla. - On the field, there is the Grimfest. Chase Utley taking soft grounders while seated in a folding chair is viewed as progress. Jimmy Rollins continues to flirt with the Mendoza Line, but that is OK because he is healthy and just getting in his work. Brad Lidge is throwing 68? Oops, that's 86 . . .

In the Phillies' dugout and front office, there is the Grinfest. Do the new contracts awarded by Ruben Amaro to Charlie Manuel and by Dave Montgomery to Ruben Amaro come with a disclaimer: "If any grin lasts more than 4 hours, immediately seek medical help . . . "?

Phillies president Montgomery has always been an affable sort. Even when he'd like to tear your liver out, Ed Rendell's matchmaker manages to wear a sincere smile.

He glows with the pink radiance of a man with money to burn who has burned it well. In an economy that grows more wretched by the tsunami, aftershock and nuclear meltdown half a world away, the Phillies' largesse is becoming an embarrassing anomaly. Is this a ballclub or a hedge fund?

I'm waiting for the Opening Day SRO mob in the Bank to chant, "Hail, Monty, we who are about to be foreclosed upon salute you . . . "

Anybody else ask themselves, "What the hell is a 67-year-old baseball manager raised in Barney Google country going to do with the $8 million the Phillies will pay him between now and the 2013 season?" Is it - never mind the figure - just the honor of the thing, the skylarking thrill of being paid at close to the same level as some of his better compensated peers?

I'm guessing Ruben Amaro's 4-year extension, announced with considerable fanfare Saturday, is probably in the $8 million range. I could be off a little give or take a few millions. What the hell, today's money is just a few rolls of the dice and a few more African nation civil wars and revolutions from being backed by the "Do Not Pass Go" fund. However, you can still collect your $200 billion and avoid jail by promising to pay some of it back.

I got a nostalgic spike when RAJ spoke of how he has been going to spring trainings as the son of Ruben and Judy Amaro since he was a year old.

His dad and Judy were a mixed-race marriage, not exactly the most popular union in that conflicted decade. Thanks to a Pinellas County furniture dealer who befriended the Amaros, Phillies outfielder Tony Gonzalez and his green-eyed Cuban wife, Rosario, Indian Rocks Beach was integrated without incident. One supposes that on the premise what you don't know won't hurt you until the bullet strikes, Phils traveling secretary Charlie Meister was able to rent the other half of the duplex beach cottage to the new Daily News beat writer and his family.

I would be a liar if I did not unashamedly admit that I am proud as hell of what Ruben Amaro Jr. has accomplished. A lot of Americans have wonderful bloodlines. Charlie Sheen's daddy, after all, is Martin Sheen, no choirboy but a brilliant actor who was at the center of what I consider one of the five best films of all time, the violently beautiful "Apocalypse Now." Winston Churchill's family was a mess, as was Franklin Delano Roosevelt's dysfunctional issue and the ill-starred Kennedy family.

Ruben Jr. had a lot piled on his plate: Race and religion. Son of a dark-skinned, Hispanic major league ballplayer, grandson of the great Santos Amaro, the Babe Ruth of the Mexican League. Santos was a black Cuban who married a Mexican woman.

During his Phillies time, Ruben Sr. married Judy, a vibrant Oxford Circle woman of the Jewish faith. Judy has remarried, but she and her sons, David and Ruben Jr., have remained close. I knew her in the early days, then had a reunion in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland during an All-Star Game party. Her son was an Indian then.

That was 14 years ago. Who knew that when I shook hands with Ruben, who won a ring with the 1993 Phillies, I was pressing flesh with a man who would somehow stitch together one of the great pitching rotations ever assembled - with stealth, imagination, and the temporary denuding of a solid minor league system.

With his conflicted baseball education - Penn Charter star, Stanford University, College World Series, All-America, journeyman major league outfielder, his time later spent at the knees of Lee Thomas, Ed Wade and Pat Gillick - I figured RAJ would emerge as a dictator in the Bill Giles mold. When Bill finally grabbed the GMs reins in 1986, he solicited advice from a group of advisers I named "The Gang of Six."

GO6 Minister of Trade Hugh Alexander described the tiebreaking procedure like this: "If a vote was tied 4-2 against Bill, he would break the tie and make it 5-1."

Montgomery, Manuel, Amaro . . . I am blown away by what has been accomplished by these totally disparate individuals. And let's cut to the bottom line of who they used to be: the Ivy Leaguer, the multiracial son of a black Cuban ballplayer born in Mexico, a hillbilly who could have been Jed Clampett's smarter brother.

There is a thread running through the roles of these men that defines multiculturalism.

Hooray por la difference, y'all . . .

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