I was decorating my office with some signed baseballs I had received over the years and sent a photo to one of my friends.
“Is that your whole collection?”
“No. There are some signed balls that are so special they will never leave the house.”
“Who could be so special that you don’t want to display it at work?”
That seems to be the reaction I get whenever I mention his name. Although unless you were a 1990s Texas Rangers fan or a baseball fan in general as he played for five teams from 1970-1981, you might not know who he is. Oates was the first-round pick of the Baltimore Orioles in the 1967 MLB draft out of Virginia Tech. He made his big league debut on September 17, 1970 but he wasn’t on the roster whenever the team won the World Series that year. After the 1972 season, he was traded to Atlanta with Pat Dobson, Roric Harrison, and Davey Johnson for Taylor Duncan and Earl Williams. Oates was with several teams throughout the next nine seasons playing with the Atlanta Braves from 1973-1975, the Philadelphia Phillies from 1975-1976, the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1977-1979, and the New York Yankees from 1980-1981.
He started managing in the minors in 1982 but didn’t get his call to manage in the majors until 1991 with the Baltimore Orioles. He managed there through the 1994 season and after being let go, he was hired to be the manager for the Texas Rangers. He managed the team from 1995-2001 and that’s how I remember him.
I was five years old whenever I went to my first baseball game at the Ballpark in Arlington. I had watched Texas Rangers games with my dad and decided that Rusty Greer was my favorite player. So whenever I saw him talking to this guy with an awesome mustache, I asked my dad who he was to which he replied it was the manager Johnny Oates. I watched how he managed the team over the years and grew to like and respect him and his decisions on the field. He led the Rangers to the playoffs for the first time ever in 1996 and back-to-back American League West titles in 1998 and 1999.
That off-season I had the opportunity to meet him as part of the Dr Pepper Junior Rangers Club. He talked about what it takes for a team to come together and that through hard work anything is possible. I remember shaking his hand and him signing my baseball while asking all about how my Little League season was going. To this day, I’ve never forgotten how special that small moment meant to my little heart.
He resigned less than 30 games into the 2001 season because the team had started the year with a bad record and never managed again. Oates was diagnosed with glioblastoma multiform, a type of brain tumor, in 2001 and passed away in 2004. He left his mark on baseball being inducted into the Virginia Tech Sports Hall of Fame, the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame, the Texas Rangers retired his number, and he was inducted into the Baltimore Orioles Hall of Fame. The Texas Rangers honored the 1996 team this season which was managed by Oates and manager Jeff Bannister talked to WFAA about his impact on the team.
So why does that baseball never leave my home? It’s a special memento from a great major league coach who coached my favorite players growing up and a great man who took the time to give pointers to a Little Leaguer wanting to be just like him.