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He's Not Just A Wild And Crazy Guy
Ron Fimrite
August 08, 1983
Manager Doug Rader is working hard to create a new image for himself and the Texas Rangers
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August 08, 1983

He's Not Just A Wild And Crazy Guy

Manager Doug Rader is working hard to create a new image for himself and the Texas Rangers

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"The reason I got sold was why I was down," Rader says now, bristling yet over the old slight. "I always believed in the work ethic, and I worked hard for Dark and played well. Then he told me I had to go because I reminded him of the way he was before he got religion. He's telling me I'm a no-good s.o.b. and he doesn't even know me. Very few people really know me, although many think that they do because of what they've read. Well, I've been married to the same woman for 16 years, and I believe in most of the important things in life, including religion. I was raised a Presbyterian, but I converted to Catholicism, my wife's faith and my mother's, in 1979. But even if I was the world's worst heathen, Dark still prejudged me. He didn't know me from Adam."

Rader had hit .271 in 52 games for the '77 Padres when he was sold. He hit .240 in 96 games with Toronto. Then, in March of 1978, he called it a career. "Outwardly, he never changed," recalls his wife, Jeannette, of those Dark days. "He never does. Doug keeps it all inside him. But after that move to Toronto, all the spirit went out of him."

Rader spent the spring and early summer of '78 with his wife and three children at their home in Stuart, Fla., some 40 miles north of West Palm Beach. "It's just a quiet little town," says Rader. He devoted those months to deep-sea fishing with his pals, diving for lobster, reading his favorite author, Ernest Hemingway, and helping out his friend, Dave Husnander, in his plumbing business. In August, Bob Fontaine, the San Diego general manager that year, offered Rader a coaching job. Dark by this time had been fired. Rader accepted and coached through the '79 season. He made two important decisions in that period: He decided he wanted to become a manager and he started writing his journal.

Fontaine gave Rader the chance to manage, assigning him the Hawaii club, and in his three seasons Rader won two half-season pennants and never finished worse than .500 with teams the Padre front office readily admitted were inferior. "We gave him an absolutely terrible team last year," the San Diego minor league administrator, Tom Romenesko, says, "and he won more games than he lost." It was in Hawaii that Rader's unique ability as a handler of personnel first became recognized. Tim Flannery, now a Padre infielder, recalls that in the first game he played for Rader he struck out three times and dropped a ball that cost the Islanders the game. Flannery was near tears when he was called into Rader's office after the game. "The reason I've got you in here," Rader advised the nervous youngster, "is to try and talk you out of showing up tomorrow." Says Flannery, "I started laughing, and that's what he wanted me to do. The thing I like about Doug is that he makes you believe in yourself."

Rader's journal represents still another aspect of his rather complex personality. He is the first to admit that his tomfoolery is merely protective armor. It's the soft underside he wishes to protect. Even as an apparently carefree high school jock in the Chicago suburb of Northbrook, Ill., he concealed his serious side. He might have been a clown on the outside, but he was a brooder underneath. "I found then that it helped if I just wrote down what was bothering me," he says. "I'd always tried to keep things hidden inside. When something would bother me, I'd cover it up. People felt I was flip and non-serious. That's as far from the truth as you can imagine. It's just that I never wanted anybody to know I was worried, that a lot of things affected me. I know I always give the impression I'm only concerned about the immediate, but the things that I tend to worry about are things I can't control—the future, for example. I found that if I just wrote these things down they seemed less important. So I started making lists."

He continued the list-making through Glenbrook High School and two years at Illinois Wesleyan, where he played shortstop. After the 1964 season Rader quit college—"It's the only thing I've never finished," he says—to sign with Houston. In 1967, while playing winter ball in Nicaragua, he met Jeannette, the native-born daughter of a wealthy Cuban exile whose business interests included insurance, a brewery and a hotel.

As a player, when Rader wanted to let off steam, he'd simply do something wacko, like delivering the Astros' starting lineup to the umpires in a skillet or greeting teammate Norm Miller and his wife from behind the door of his house wearing only an impish grin. This ploy, he advises, "works every time" with unwanted guests.

Of those supposedly halcyon days, Rader says, "If I saw an opportunity to have fun, I took it. Otherwise I would've gone crazy." A teammate in Houston, Jim Bouton, began recording some of the Rader antics in his own journal, and the publication of his sequel to Ball Four, I'm Glad You Didn't Take It Personally, enshrined Rader as the game's premier flake. Rader liked the book and he was a staunch Bouton defender when many baseball traditionalists were denouncing him, but he deplored the reputation he gained from Bouton's writing and loathed the word "flake." In his view, it connotes irresponsibility, and, indeed, Rader was an aggressive, conscientious player whose capriciousness was confined largely to clubhouses and hotels. "He's certainly no flake," says Jeannette. "The more you get to know him, the more you see he's not that way. He just knows how to enjoy life."

Rader started keeping his own journal in that do-nothing 1979 season as a coach under Craig. Instead of jotting down anecdotes and one-liners, he began writing impressions and pensées. "I put down how I feel about certain things," he says. "There are no specifics about any game in the journal. It's mostly about my state of mind. I've always wanted to write. I fooled around with it at first. Now it's addictive." A few examples:

•"Anyone who doubts the existence of God should visit Hawaii. The beauty of these islands stretches beyond the imagination. From the landscape to the flowers to the people, Hawaii is the epitome of perfection. It's a damn shame their team is only Triple A."—Sept. 30, 1982.

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