- The Washington Times - Friday, December 24, 2004

RICHMOND — Johnny Oates, who managed the Texas Rangers to their first three postseason appearances, died early yesterday. He was 58.

Oates was diagnosed with a brain tumor three years ago. His death was confirmed by John Blake, a former Rangers spokesman who worked for the organization with Oates in the 1990s.

“It was a pretty courageous fight,” Blake said. “He accomplished something no other manager had here. The first division title was certainly a big anvil off everybody’s back with this franchise.”

Oates, who also managed the Baltimore Orioles from 1991 to 1994, spent six seasons with the Rangers, guiding them to the playoffs in 1996, 1998 and 1999 and shared the American League manager of the year award with New York’s Joe Torre in 1996.

Oates resigned in 2001 after the Rangers lost 17 of their first 28 games despite the addition of $252million free agent shortstop Alex Rodriguez. He compiled a regular-season record of 797-746 and got his only postseason victory in 10 tries when the Rangers made their playoff debut, winning 6-2 at Yankee Stadium on Oct.1, 1996. Texas lost the next three games and was swept by the Yankees in 1998 and 1999.

“Throw away what he did in baseball and you still have a special man. Baseball did not define Johnny,” said Rangers manager Buck Showalter, who regularly talked with Oates.

A little more than six months after leaving the Rangers, Oates was considering a return to managing when he was diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme, an aggressive brain tumor.

The tumor was removed in November 2001, and a device that delivered time-released chemotherapy was implanted. But the tumor returned in April 2003.

Throughout his illness, Oates remained an upbeat and deeply spiritual man, thankful for the warning that he likely would die from the disease but celebrating the chance to be with Gloria, his wife of nearly 40 years, their three children and grandchildren.

“When you look at it, it’s a blessing,” he said in a March 2003 interview.

Said Showalter: “It is a sad day but a happy day. Johnny is in a better place. Gloria said one of their prayers was that he would be in Heaven before Christmas. I bet there will be a heck of a baseball game up there tomorrow — no, the day after tomorrow. It will take John time to get organized.”

Oates and his wife began each morning studying the Bible in the sunroom of their home on Lake Chesdin, about 30 miles from Richmond, and were active in their church. Oates also attended local baseball games periodically but increasingly needed help to get there after the brain surgery slowly caused the left side of his body to become lame.

“I don’t miss baseball one single bit. I enjoy talking about it, but I know I can’t do it anymore. I like to watch it on TV,” he said in an interview with the Associated Press. “I miss the people. I don’t miss the stress that went with it, all the decision-making. But now I enjoy being here. I enjoy being lazy.”

Oates, a left-handed hitting catcher, played for five teams in his major league career, starting with the Orioles in 1970. It was there that he encountered Cal Ripken Sr., whom he later credited with helping turn him into a big league player.

When he was just starting out, Oates recalled days when Ripken stood on the pitcher’s mound with a bucket of balls and a fungo bat, hitting one-hoppers at him.

“He said if I could block them, I could block any pitches,” Oates said.

In a statement, Orioles owner Peter Angelos said, “Johnny Oates was a true gentleman. He faced his disease the way he lived his life, with class and dignity.”

After the Orioles, Oates played with Atlanta, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and the New York Yankees.

“I still don’t know how I got to the big leagues, because I wasn’t that good,” he said in the 2003 interview. “I was a slap hitter. I kept my mouth shut. I couldn’t throw. I couldn’t throw a lick.”

For his career, Oates batted .250 with 14 home runs and 126 RBI.

Following his retirement as a player in 1981, Oates managed the Yankees’ Class AA Southern League team, winning the championship his first season. Among his players that year was Showalter.

As part of a Rangers Hall of Fame ceremony in August 2003, Showalter dedicated the manager’s office in Arlington with a plaque honoring Oates.

“That will always be Johnny’s office. We’re just renting it and passing through,” Showalter said yesterday. “The definition of man and manager, Johnny’s picture will be next to it.”

Visitation will be Monday from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Colonial Heights, with the funeral Tuesday at the church at 11 a.m. Burial will be at Sunset Memorial Park in Chester.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to the Johnny Oates Memorial Fund for Brain Tumor Research and Patient Care. They can be sent in care of the Bank of McKenney, P.O. Box 370, McKenney, Va. 23872.

AP writer Stephen Hawkins in Dallas contributed to this article.

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