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.