Before the 2010 season, the greatest era of the Texas Rangers franchise centered around the managerial career of the late Johnny Oates. Before Johnny Oates, the Texas Rangers were either miles away from contention or thisclose to reaching the postseason. Born on January 21st, 1946, the backup catcher took the long way to reaching his greatest achievements in baseball.
Picked from Virginia Tech by the Baltimore Orioles in the first round of the 1967 amateur draft, Oates powered his way through five seasons in the minor leagues with a .282 batting average. By 1972, he had reached the majors and played more games behind the dish than any other catcher on the team that year. During the middle of the off-season, he was shipped off to the Atlanta Braves as part of a six player trade.
In a December 1978 issue of Baseball Digest, Gary Mihoces gets insight from Johnny Oates with regard to head on collisions with catchers. Click here to read the article!
In Atlanta, like his time in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and New York, Oates served as a backup or platoon with other catchers. Despite the relegated role, he held his own with a .250 average, .309 OBP, and a steady defense behind the plate. In addition to eleven seasons as a catcher, Oates reached the postseason in three straight years. He went to the NLCS with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1976 and the World Series in 1977 and 1978 with the Los Angeles Dodgers against the New York Yankees. 1978 was not the last time Johnny Oates would battle the Bronx Bombers for a chance at a World Series title.
By 1980, Johnny Oates’ playing days were winding down and he spent the final two seasons with the Yankees; the very team he battled in two previous World Series. Oates wasted little time making the transition from player to manager, debuting as the skipper of the Yankees Double A Nashville Sounds in 1982 and leading the team to a Southern League title. A year later, he managed the Triple A Columbus Clippers to a 83-57 record. He spent several seasons with the Chicago Cubs following the 1983 season, but he was far from finished as a manager.
By 1989, the team that first drafted the former catcher came calling, and tabbed him for manager of the Triple A Rochester Red Wings. By the following year he was a member of the Baltimore Orioles coaching staff and when Frank Robinson faltered in 1991, Oates was given reigns of the team. Despite a slow start in 1991, Oates guided the team from a 6th place finish to third place one year later. Following another third place finish in 1993, Oates and the Orioles climbed into second place at the time of the player’s strike in 1994. When new owner Peter Angelos took over, it marked the end of Johnny Oates’ career in Baltimore.
Johnny Oates wasn’t unemployed for long, as the Texas Rangers brought him in to guide the impressive offense. Oates’ impact on the team was nearly immediate. With a sub par debut season behind him, where the team finished in third, the 1996 Texas Rangers came out gangbusters by winning 51 games in the first half of the season. The skipper was named the 1996 American League Manager of The Year(along with Joe Torre), but the team struggled in the postseason against the budding dynasty of the New York Yankees.
Reaching the postseason in three out of four years between 1996-1999, the Rangers were handily defeated by the Yankees, winning just one game in three different Division Series. While the Yankees continued their winning ways beyond 1999, the Rangers struggled mightily in 2000 with a 91 loss season. After a tough start to 2001, Johnny Oates resigned his post.
Oates was planning on resuming his managerial career when news came out that he was stricken with a brain tumor. Though given a bleak outlook, the veteran manager beat the odds and survived more than three years before succumbing to the tumor on Christmas Eve, 2004. He was able to attend his induction with the inaugural class into the Texas Rangers Hall of Fame. In August of 2010, Oates was inducted into the Baltimore Orioles Hall of Fame as well.
Celebrating A Birthday Today:
Rusty Greer, born on January 21st 1969, spent 9 major league seasons with the Texas Rangers, 7 under the leadership of Johnny Oates as manager. Though hobbled by injuries for much of his career, Greer was renowned for his hard nosed play.
Chris Hammond, born in 1966, spent 14 years in the big leagues. An unremarkable starting pitcher with the Cincinnati Reds, Florida Marlins and Boston Red Sox, he revitalized his career in 2002 following 3 full seasons out of the majors. His final five seasons were spent with a different team each year and he managed a cumulative 2.93 ERA in the second ‘half’ of his career.
Mike Krukow, born in 1952, played 14 seasons at the major league level and may be best remembered for his playing days and as a commentator with the San Francisco Giants. A 20 game winner in 1986 and a member of the 1987 Giants that went to the National League Championship Series, “Kruk” has developed his own baseball vocabulary better know as the “Kruktionary”.