Amos Otis spent the daylight hours of Sept. 7, 1971, moving from a third-floor to a ground-floor apartment. At night, he played for the Kansas City Royals against the Milwaukee Brewers.
Otis moved everything by himself that day, then went to the ballpark, “and had one helluva game,” he said. Otis was 4-for-4 at the plate and stole five bases.
“That was the one biggest single moment that sticks out in my mind. I will always remember that game,” said Otis, whose major league career spanned 1,998 games over 17 seasons, initially for the New York Mets, primarily for the Kansas City Royals and ultimately for Pittsburgh.
“I was a pretty good reader of pitchers and their moves, including the two pitchers I faced that day: Marty Pattin and Ken Sanders. I had both of the (Milwaukee pitchers’ moves) down pat, so they were kind of easy that day to steal against.”
Otis didn’t even have to slide on three of the five stolen bases.
“Back in my day, we ran when we needed it. If it was 4-0 or 5-0, you wouldn’t even try to steal a base,” he said.
Otis’ major league career started in 1967 and ran through the 1984 campaign. He clubbed 193 career home runs, drove in 1,007 runs, stole 341 bases and batted .277. Otis was a five-time All-Star, including every year from 1970-73, and was a three-time Gold Glove winner.
“One of my greatest thrills was getting traded to the Kansas City Royals and then getting the opportunity to play every day from day one with the team in 1970. I think I took advantage of it, sticking around there for 14 years,” said Otis, who bat and threw right-handed. “The part I really miss about the game is the camaraderie, the laughing and joking around with the guys. I don’t miss the pressure of trying to hit a 100 mph fastball. If I got paid the way guys are paid today, I’d miss that.
“I thought pitchers liked me because they always hit my bat quite often for me. I’ve always said that pitchers were my friend; they helped me get some base hits.
“If I had played 21 years, I might have gotten to 3,000 hits. Plus, I was playing in a big ballpark in Kansas City, so that took away from hits and home run totals. In today’s ballparks, I might have hit 400 home runs and have had a shot at the Hall of Fame. Hey, I didn’t make the Hall of Fame, but I still think I had a decent career.”
Otis made his major league debut on Sept. 6, 1967, for the Mets. He played his last game on August 5, 1984 for the Pirates.
Ironically, he was initially drafted by Boston in 1965 as a shortstop.
“The toughest pitcher I ever faced was Nolan Ryan,” said the 61-year-old Otis. “Nolan Ryan was about the only guy in the American League who was throwing 100 mph at the time. I got my share of hits off him, but he got me his share, as well.
“Frank Tanana was another tough pitcher to face. He was one helluva pitcher. He probably was the toughest left-hander that I ever faced. He was the only one who was able to get the 0-2 pitch on the inside corner on me. Not many others even tried.”
The Mets sent Otis to Kansas City in exchange for hot third base prospect Joe Foy, which ultimately was one of the more one-sided trades in baseball history.
Otis batted only .151 for the 1969 Mets in 48 games.
“I didn’t even hit my weight with the Mets in ’69,” Otis said, laughing.
Otis appeared in six postseason series and four League Championship Series. He also was a star for the Royals in the 1980 World Series, a losing effort to Philadelphia.
“When I was in Kansas City, we didn’t have a whole lot of power, but we sure had a lot of speed, defense and pitching,” Otis continued. “We looked forward to hitting on that turf, especially when it was wet because we knew how to play on it.
“When I finally got to the World Series in 1980, I led both teams with hits, and hit a home run in my first World Series at-bat. My lucky number is 16, and I was the 16th person to hit a home run in their first World Series at-bat. That was exciting.
“I thought we should have won the Series. Even though we had the lead in every game, if you can’t hold the lead, you’re not going to win.”
Otis had three home runs and seven RBIs in the six-game Series.
Otis, who now lives in Las Vegas, said he still tracks the Royals, among other teams.
“I never miss the playoffs or World Series,” said Otis, who regularly watches the New York Yankees and highlighted the play of Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano and Mariano Riviera. “I’m glad I never had to face Mariano; he’s one tough reliever.”
Otis is now “retired in every sense of the word.” He stays busy golfing, helping at select baseball clinics and playing in a few old-timer’s games.
“I’m just enjoying myself these days. Life is good,” Otis said. “I play a lot of golf, including today. It was, oh, about 111 degrees today, but that helps you get through your round of golf pretty quickly. I shoot in the 80s, but am still trying to get under 80 at least once.”
Otis appeared at the 29th National Sports Collectors Convention in Chicago, marking his second autograph appearance at The National.
“I think people still remember my career, so I still sign quite a few autograph requests,” he said. “Going to shows such as The National gives me the opportunity to see players who I played with and against, yet have not seen them in quite a few years; that’s always nice.
“Plus, I can get some autographs, too.”
Otis collects autographs from sports and entertainment personalities. One of his prized pieces is a signed item featuring cast members from “The Andy Griffith Show,” including Gomer Pyle.
He also has multiple baseballs signed by Hall of Famers, plus footballs signed by Johnny Unitas and Dan Marino, among others. Otis’ collection also includes autographs from Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Muhammad Ali.
“I enjoy collecting,” he said.
His wish-list includes autographs from some of the present-day players, “who I know for sure will be in the Hall of Fame, such as Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez and Derek Jeter,” he said. “If I get their autographs now, I don’t have to worry about trying to get them later on.”
And, Otis added: “What I normally do is, I ask those future Hall of Famers to put HOF on the ball when they sign it, along with their name, and then the year they go in, I’ll just put the year on it myself. I haven’t come across anyone who wouldn’t do it, but the one guy who was a little skeptical was Lee Smith. He finally did it for me.
“A lot of these signed baseballs, I’m getting them for my grandson.”
Otis said he does not have a problem signing autographs. In fact, he added, “The day they stop asking, that’s a problem. I’m always thrilled when people recognize me and want my autograph. And it happens every now and then in various cities. I’m always happy to sign autographs, and don’t like the guys who won’t sign autographs because, without the fans, there really is no baseball.”
Hank Aaron was Otis’ boyhood idol, and Otis actually grew up eight blocks from The Hammer in Mobile, Ala. Otis’ dad once introduced him to Aaron, “but I was too scared to say anything.”
“A favorite story of mine was a gentleman years ago in Kansas City who was about 40 years old kept asking me for a baseball, and I kept telling him they were only for the kids. He replied, ‘I was a kid a long time ago,’ and I understood what he was saying, so I tossed him a ball. We’ve become good friends.”
Otis said he has saved most, if not all, of his trading cards, dating back to his 1969 Topps rookie card (No. 31).
“Some of them I like; some I don’t. Some of them I needed a shave. Some of them I needed a haircut. I like to look nice on the baseball cards,” Otis said. “Collectors always mail extra cards when requesting an autograph, in case I want them, and I take them.”
Otis said he does not have a favorite of his cards. “I pretty much like them all. I like that I was real skinny back then because I’m not as skinny now,” he said, laughing.