Amos Otis turned 65 in April, but he still has the spirit that Royals fans remember when he roamed center field with style and grace.
Otis, a member of the Royals Hall of Fame, recently returned to Kansas City for the All-Star Game festivities and shared stories with the fans ranging from being a childhood neighbor of Hank Aaron to hitting .478 for the Royals in the 1980 World Series. Otis even led a cluster of Fanfest enthusiasts in an "A.O." chant.
From 1970 through 1983, "A.O." meant "uh-oh" for Royals opponents.
Otis was a five-time All-Star and a three-time Gold Glove winner. He was a lifetime .280 hitter with 193 homers, 992 RBIs and 340 stolen bases. Strong numbers for a bona fide five-tool ballplayer.
"My big break came when the New York Mets traded me to Kansas City," Otis said. "I was going from the 1969 World Champions to an expansion team. But it was the perfect opportunity for me. I got the chance to play at the position where I was comfortable."
The Mets had experimented with Otis at third base, but the outfield was where he wanted to be.
"You never see a ball take a bad hop in the sky," Otis said.
Furthermore, his idol was an outfielder. Growing up just three doors down from Aaron in Mobile, Ala., Otis wanted to be just like No. 44 of the Braves. That Aaron-inspired dream drove Otis from the time he started playing T-ball at age 5.
Otis was a perfect fit for the Royals. He grew as a player while the up-and-coming Royals grew as a team. By 1976, the Royals were a playoff team and Otis was a full-fledged star.
"In the first game of the '76 playoffs, I broke my ankle and was out. [Manager] Whitey Herzog said we would have won if Amos had been out there," Otis recalled. "In 1977, I thought we had the best team in the American League. We got 102 wins, but then the Yankees take us out in the playoffs. In 1978, we had a decent team, but not as good as the Yankees. I thought they deserved to win."
The Royals finally got over the Yankee barrier in 1980, and went on to face the Phillies in the World Series. On Major League Baseball's biggest stage, Otis had three homers and seven RBIs during that six-game series to go with his .478 average.
Otis now lives in Las Vegas and enjoys a life of leisure.
"I'm retired in every sense of the word," Otis said. "All I do is hang out with my grandkids, play golf and travel a lot. Fortunately, I've got good health. Each year, I go to Hawaii for two months and just lay on the beach."
Wherever he goes, Otis gets the inevitable queries from casual fans about George Brett.
"A lot of people say, 'You played with George Brett.' I say, 'No, I was here first. He played with me,'" Otis said with a laugh.
Otis was a part of one of the most memorable plays in All-Star Game history. Older fans can vividly recall Pete Rose crashing through catcher Ray Fosse and scoring the winning run in the 1970 All-Star Game. But some may have forgotten, or may not know, that it was Otis who made the throw to the plate.
Fosse was never the same player after being hurt in that collision, and debates have raged as to whether Rose should have been so aggressive in an All-Star Game. But 42 years after the fact, Otis has no problem with what Rose did.
"You should play hard, just like you do in the regular season," Otis said. "If you get hurt, you get hurt."
Otis passed the torch of outfield excellence to Willie Wilson before ending his long reign with the Royals. In the years in which Otis and Wilson were together, Otis had a simple rule as the center fielder with Wilson stationed as a corner outfielder.
"I would always tell Willie: 'You've got a 385 sign in left field and a 385 sign in right field. Don't ever come across those lines. Everything else is mine,'" Otis said.
After leaving the Royals, Otis went to Pittsburgh briefly in 1984 before hanging up the uniform. Although he started and finished elsewhere, Otis is proud that his baseball identity is as a Royal.
"When I came to Kansas City, [general manager] Cedric Tallis told me I was here for the next 15 years," Otis said. "He lied to me. I only got in 14 years."