Doug Rader is talking about the past, something he is often asked to do these days. He is calling to mind an afternoon at Comiskey Park in 1984, when he was the manager of the Texas Rangers. The White Sox had brought a group of youngsters from the Children's Home and Aid Society orphanage onto the field, and Rader was having a chat with some of the kids. "I told them, 'Things can turn out great,' " Rader recalls. "One of them looked at me and said, 'How would you know?' I told him, 'Because I came from the home, too. I'm one of the luckiest people on earth. I got adopted by the greatest...' "
This is an article from the Aug. 7, 1989 issue
Rader chokes in midsentence, swivels his chair 45 degrees to the right, and puts his head in his hands. A full five minutes pass silently, until he straightens up and turns back around. "I'm sorry," he says, "but my mom's been sick lately and I'm worried."
He pauses and takes a deep breath, recalling again the kids from the Children's Home, the same orphanage from which Rader was adopted as an infant. "Every time I think about those kids, I think of how fortune plays such a big part in what and who we are, in determining those who have and those who have not."
Rader, all 6'3", 230 pounds of him, has regained his composure, but as he continues, he is in a kind of reverie. "My mom, when she was young," he says, "carried her family through the Depression, earning seven dollars a week while almost everyone else in the family was sick or out of work." He pauses again, lost in thought. "When I was growing up, my dad got up every morning at five, rode the train in from Northbrook to Chicago to work, and didn't get home till seven; it was my mom who taught me so many things in life." Pause. "Before she got married, she'd gone to The Art Institute of Chicago, and she still helps out in the Stuart [Fla.] schools with kids who have a special interest in art." Pause. "God, she's great.
"Sorry," Rader says. "You don't want to hear all that. But I sometimes roll off on tangents, and I'm pretty emotional when it comes to my parents."
It is in these brief outpourings that Rader, the 45-year-old manager of the California Angels, reveals himself, which isn't often. "Everyone wants to bring up my past," he says. Of course, what people mostly ask about is Rader's far-different public persona: Doug Rader, the zany, flaky Houston Astro third baseman who sat on a birthday cake in the clubhouse; Doug Rader, the madman in Jim Bouton's book Ball Four who advised kids to eat baseball cards to ingest all the information printed on them; Doug Rader, the raging tyrant-manager of the Texas Rangers who was fired after ferocious confrontations with players and writers.
But those are only a few facets of the man. "When Rader took over here in Anaheim," says Angel pitcher Kirk McCaskill, "I admit that I expected a raving maniac. What I've encountered is a man of incredible intelligence. He's forever full of surprises, a master of the unexpected. But what surprises me most is how smart he is."
"Doug Rader is the closest thing to a genius I've ever met in baseball," says Pirate coach Rich Donnelly, who coached for Rader in Texas. "He's like the man of a thousand faces. Or like the Grand Canyon. He can be one thing in one light, and be completely different in another. He's tough, but he's soft. He's incredibly thoughtful, then he's incredibly intense. Doug is intense about breakfast."
California general manager Mike Port apparently understood much of this when, in what quickly became known as Port's Folly, he hired Rader last November to manage the fallen Angels, who had lost their last 12 games of the '88 season to finish 75-87. "I knew Doug from his San Diego days," says Port. "I knew him as a player, a coach, a minor league manager. I knew the depths and capabilities of the man, and I was convinced he had learned from the Texas experience. He's one of those rare people who is intelligent enough to make an objective self-evaluation when things don't go right."
Port has proved to be the William Seward of his time. Under Rader, the Angels, who were generally picked for fifth in '89, had the best record in the major leagues, 63-40, as of Sunday. By marching into Oakland last week and winning two of three from the powerful Athletics, the Angels secured the division lead and added a heavy dose of credibility to their stunning season. "People have been waiting for us to collapse," says pitcher Bert Blyleven. "But the way Doug has held things together, right on into Oakland, should not only make them forget the past but realize that we are a legitimate contender."
The reasons? For one, the Angels have the best starting pitching in the American League. But that's only part of the story. "We also have a completely different personality," says third baseman Jack Howell. "This had been a tense, tight clubhouse for a few years. Now, it's fun—and I said that when I was ready for a straitjacket, hitting .100 the first six weeks."
Says pitcher Dan Petry, "We were all shocked in the first team meeting when we heard some of the big words Doug throws out. I wasn't sure what he was talking about. And we all thought. 'What will happen with this guy when we lose?' Well, we lost three straight in Oakland in April, and he came into the clubhouse and ordered the radio turned up. After we got close to first place in early June, we lost seven in a row; after the seventh loss we played an exhibition game in Midland, Texas, and he played third base and seemed to be having the time of his life. There's always something whirling around in his mind. We just don't often understand it."
A common expression in the Rader lexicon is "joy of activity." On a recent afternoon. Rader's 17-year-old son, Matt, who attends high school near the family home in Florida, said he was thinking about quitting the wrestling team next winter to concentrate on his studies and on baseball. His father told him, "If you don't hold the same joy for the activity, there's no sense continuing it." The next afternoon, Rader had a discussion with Angels hitting coach Deron Johnson about shortstop Dick Schofield. "I just don't want him worrying about failing," said Rader. "I want him to forget about pressure from us, or family or whatever, and concentrate on the pure joy of playing."
"I always had a pure joy of playing," says Rader. "But it's not that way for everyone. When you play baseball as a kid, baseball is your outlet. When baseball becomes one's livelihood, there has to be a different kind of outlet to help retain the joy and keep the game fun to play. Otherwise, it swallows some guys up. Most of those crazy, childish things I did when I played were ground wires; they helped diffuse the everyday tension. I hate to have them brought up now because they were done in a different context. I was a player. Those things were between players. Now that I'm a manager, they just look silly."
Perhaps. But as a player, in that different context—in that different light—Rader was a much-loved clown. There was the time, for example, when he went to the movies, bought an ice cream bar, ate the paper and tossed the ice cream away. Sometimes after games, he and Astro roommate Roger Metzger would lie on their backs in the clubhouse shower and slither across the floor in what were called "the upside-down seal races." One evening when Astro teammate Norm Miller and his wife were coming to his house, Rader decided he wasn't in the mood to entertain, so he greeted them stark naked. His guests quickly departed. Said Rader afterward, "That works every time."
But the light in the manager's office is different, so Rader has encouraged Blyleven, acquired from the Twins in November, to play the role that Rader once performed so well. It is Blyleven who runs around the clubhouse with matches giving hotfoots, and who dons a mop wig and a judge's robe to levy fines in the Angels' kangaroo court. "Bert is the biggest factor on this team, not me," Rader insists. Before the exhibition game in Midland, Rader laughed as loud as anyone when Blyleven gave his own exhibition by dropping his pants and mooning his manager from the outfield. "To the outside world, that may seem disgusting," says Rader. "But humor is all context. I want an absence of tension on this team, and there are a lot of ways to go about getting to that point."
During his tenure with Texas, he tried many of them. Toward the end of spring training in 1983, Rader told Donnelly he was worried that the club was losing enthusiasm. "What this team needs is a picnic," Rader said. "Let's have a beach party." He sent equipment manager Joe Macko out to purchase 34 beach towels, six aprons and suntan lotion. When the players arrived, they were each told to take a towel and go find a spot in the outfield. Rader and the coaches, attired in aprons, served the players hot dogs and pop.
Says Rader, "I like people and things to be a little off-center."
In Ball Four Rader told Bouton that he felt "out of time and out of place" and that his real place in life was as a Tahitian warlord. Unable to command marauding armies, Rader instead finds his "joy of activity" in competition. He loves bridge but can't stand losing at it. While at Illinois Wesleyan University, he was both a professional boxer and semipro hockey player—though under a veil of secrecy. "My mom would have killed me if she'd found out," he says. So Rader fought 20 fights ("and lost them all") as Lou D'Bardini and played hockey under the name Dominic Bulganzio. "I needed the money," he says. "I got $50 a fight or a game."
During his playing career from 1967 to '77, Rader was a five-time Gold Glove third baseman and averaged 18 homers a season for Houston despite playing in the cavernous Astrodome. He was known for his feisty competitiveness, and chewed out teammates who fraternized with opposing players. "He was the most feared player in the National League for breaking up double plays," says former teammate Larry Dierker.
After his playing days ended, Rader had to find new sources of competition. One evening while he was managing in Texas, Rader and his wife, Jeannette, and Donnelly and his first wife, Peggy, went out to dinner. When they got back to the Donnellys' house, Rich's son Bubba was in the driveway shooting hoops, playing a game he called Beat the Pros, in which a player has to make 10 good shots before he misses five from particular spots on the court. Rader, in a three-piece suit, a tie and oxford shoes, began to shoot. Jeannette waited in the car for him, and the Donnellys went to bed, leaving Bubba to shag balls for Rader. At about 1 a.m., Bubba burst into the Donnellys' bedroom, leaped on the bed and screamed, "He did it! He beat the pros!" Says Donnelly, "Doug's shirt was torn, his pants were ruined, and his shoes were scuffed beyond repair. But he beat the pros."
That same competitiveness may have cost Rader his job in Texas—and it nearly cost him the chance ever to manage again. With the Rangers, the frustration of losing ate away at him. "He took everything too personally," says Buddy Bell, who played for Rader then.
Things started out well enough in Texas. In the five years since Rader had retired as a player—two as a Padres coach under Roger Craig and three managing the Padres' Hawaii farm club—he had built a formidable reputation. Says Brewers pitching coach Chuck Hartenstein, who served in the same capacity for Rader, "He was unconventional in that he wore shorts and sandals, but guys played above their heads for him more than for anyone I'd ever seen."
For half the '83 season, Rader had the Rangers in first place in the American League West, but there were signs of trouble. In Kansas City, after losing a fourth straight game, Rader became enraged. When a writer asked a question, Rader crushed an unopened beer can with one hand, smashed a steel door with his fist and slapped his clothes rack so hard that his pants flew across the room and landed atop a reporter's head. Everyone was so intimidated that the pants stayed on the reporter's head until the interview session ended.
Afterward, Rader told Donnelly, "I'm walking back." It was a six-mile trip from Royals Stadium to the hotel; before he began his hike, Rader took off his boots and handed them to Donnelly. "I've got to punish myself," Rader said. By the time he reached the hotel, his bare feet were badly blistered.
The team finished third in '83, then slid to seventh, at 69-92, in '84. In May of 1985, with the Rangers 9-23, Rader was fired. Since being named the Angels' manager, Rader has often been asked about the Texas failure. He would prefer not to talk about it. "But I have to, because I messed up and I admit it," he says. "I thought I could personally raise everyone's level of play out of sheer energy and will. One cannot ask more out of a person than he can give, but I tried to, and I was wrong."
Rader criticized Rangers veterans Jim Sundberg and Bell. He humiliated pitchers Dave Stewart and Tom Henke. He feuded with the media, responding to one writer's questions with the same two-word expletive for 12 straight days. "It got to the point where they expected me to act like an ass, and I did," says Rader. "When I was finally fired, I was actually relieved. I was totally exhausted, and so was everyone around me."
After his sacking, Rader went home to Florida and took Jeannette, Matt and daughters Christine and Elizabeth to the Keys. "It was great therapy to just spend time with my family," he says. "I love that life—swimming, diving, fishing. If I hadn't come back to baseball, I'd have probably lived happily ever after in the Caribbean."
For years, Rader has kept a daily journal of his thoughts. He dabbled with it in college, in his playing days and as a coach. "But my last year in Texas," he says, "I really got serious about keeping this journal. I realized it could be a problem-solving exercise, and by the time I was fired, I had gone from sporadic writings to a detailed discipline. I don't think I could ever have come back and managed again without it. I write down how I handle situations, and how I should have handled them. I detail battles I fight within myself. Did I handle myself in a dignified and professional manner? When things are going well, am I guilty of hubris? How am I affecting others, and how do they affect me?
"The journal is a self-created keel, which I know from my Texas experience is something I need. We all have to learn to make our own course corrections. In the years following my firing, I looked at myself closely. And I was very lucky to work with Tony La Russa."
After the 1985 season, Rader was hired to be the Chicago White Sox third base coach under La Russa (despite the fact that it had been Rader who had described the play of La Russa's division-champion Chisox in 1983 as "winning ugly"). "In my opinion, Tony La Russa is the best manager in the business, and he helped turn my whole career perspective around," says Rader. "First, he delegates authority brilliantly. Second, he made me understand that a manager should be sensitively aware of the feelings of all 24 players and five coaches who work for him, and he has to be aware of them every single day."
La Russa was dumped by Chicago general manager Ken Harrelson in the middle of the '86 season, but then Harrelson himself quit. In 1988 Rader worked as a scout for the Angels before Port gave him another shot at managing. "I know Doug, and how intelligent he is," says Port. "Intelligent people grow."
Rader is a voracious reader and has recently polished off a string of books ranging from James Michener's Alaska to Thomas McGuane's Panama to a Louis L'Amour novel to an anthropological novel about New Zealand. "Anything that makes my mind move," he says. At one time his favorite author was Ernest Hemingway, but Rader now disavows him, "because of the way he treated members of his family, and his insensitivity toward animals."
"Education is very important to my father," says Matt. "We dive together, we swim together, he encourages my baseball, comes to my wrestling meets, loves my surfing—but the school comes first. We're not a TV family. He's always creating mind games within the household that make everyone think."
Matt is an honor student at Martin County High in Stuart. In the middle of a conversation about his son's achievements, Doug suddenly turns the conversation to his daughters. "Every one of the kids is special at something," he says. "Matt is a tremendous student, but Christine and Elizabeth are tremendous, too. Every child is, fortunately, different."
Rader's own ongoing education, particularly the lessons he learned from La Russa about delegating authority, is evident in the way the Angels' pitching staff is now run: entirely by pitching coach Marcel Lachemann. Only once this season has Rader gone to the mound, and that was when Lachemann had a back injury. "Marcel knew what these guys could do and how to get them back doing it," says Rader. "He didn't care how bad they were last year [the second-worst ERA in the league]. He was right, too." Lachemann, Rader and bullpen coach Joe Coleman have stressed the positive to Blyleven (coming off a 5.43 ERA season), McCaskill (two years of arm trouble), Mike Witt and Chuck Finley. "When you have a couple of bad years, you start believing you must be bad," says Witt. "But Marcel and Doug kept saying, 'Hey, your stuff's good, you've won before.' Confidence is a tough thing to restore, but that's what they have done with me."
Rader has also restored postgame beer in the clubhouse after persuading the California management to lift its ban. "It's a way to keep people together after games," says Blyleven, "talking the game and sharing winning and losing. Before, guys were hurrying to get dressed and go home. That's all part of a team psychology, and Rader is a master of the psychological."
On the last day before the All-Star break, the Angels beat the Twins 9-3 to complete a three-game sweep that took them into the break in first place, 1½ games ahead of Oakland. A writer asked Rader to compare 1989 with 1983, reminding him that the Rangers were up two games at the break that season. Rader snapped, "This isn't 1983."
That night, he wrote in his journal, "Why should I be so defensive? Is that telling me I'm insecure? It wasn't the writer I lashed out at, but the insecurity. Why should I be insecure? I should have told him that this is a different time, a different place, a different team. I've got to watch that."
Still, the famed Rader rage has surfaced on occasion. On May 30, Milwaukee infielder Gus Polidor shouted at Rader after being hit by a pitch. Rader started out to the field toward Polidor in a fury before he was tackled by Lachemann. "I've never seen rage like that," says one player. "It was scary. But it also passed quickly."
Two weeks ago in Baltimore, Rader tore into the umpires when third base ump Jim Joyce ruled that a fly ball hit down the leftfield line by the Orioles' Mike Devereaux was fair, a two-run homer that decided the game. Rader was ejected for arguing, and afterward, tense and his face bright red, he answered questions only in short, angry bursts. The following day Rader went to home plate and handed Ken Kaiser not only the Angel lineup card but also an Oriole lineup card—with four names left blank. "This is where you guys fit in," Rader said. Kaiser ejected him again.
Rader's volcanic anger isn't confined to the ballpark. He recently took his family to see Batman, and as the Raders stood in line, a group of kids standing behind them were swearing continually. Rader asked the kids to stop, noting that he was with his family. The foul language continued, and Rader suddenly wheeled on them with fire in his eyes. "If you don't stop," he seethed, "I'll break something that's very important to you." They stopped.
Rader is sitting in his office on a recent afternoon. The subject once again is the past: Rader is talking about his father, who died in 1965. "I had decided to sign a pro contract after my sophomore year at Illinois Wesleyan, and the Astros offered me $30,000, then took me for a try-out in Cocoa Beach," he says. "When I got home, my father told me that the Cardinals had called and said they would double the offer; and after that the Braves had called and said they'd double the Cardinals' offer. 'What did you tell the Houston people?' my father asked me. I told him that I'd said I would sign with them. 'Then you're a Houston Astro, son. That's the way things are done.' "
And so it was that Doug Rader became a Houston Astro. But he still believes that he is of another place and time and that in another life, he was either a Tahitian warlord or a Caribbean pirate. Donnelly thinks Rader was a Christian missionary. "He could be almost anything," says McCaskill. It all depends on the light.