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...' "
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."