Weight lifted, Oates can go back to chowing down


May 29, 1991|By MIKE LITTWIN

Well, it wasn't manna from heaven, but it was a win, which amounted to almost the same thing.

It meant John Oates got back his appetite.

Admit it, you were worried. You hardly knew the guy, but when Oates lost 9 pounds in four days, at the least you wanted him to get his thyroid checked out. The problem was simpler. Until the Orioles won, the new manager couldn't eat.

For diets, I'll go with the Lasorda stuff, thank you. Oates is just lucky he didn't get the job in '88. After only four losses, Oates was melting, and I don't mean tuna-melting either.

But it's over now. The fifth game was the charm. I know this because I saw Oates last night dig into a giant ice cream sundae, with lots of cherries on top, provided by a grateful club management.

"In the ninth inning, I had to tell myself to calm down," said Oates, he of the hungry heart. "It wasn't the seventh game of the World Series. It was a big game for me, but it was just one of 162 for everyone else."

This is how big: Oates had his post-game menu all lined up. A 16-ounce New York strip. Baked potato with sour cream. Rolls and butter. Apple pie with ice cream. And, because he's a sensible type, a diet drink.

So, baseball is no longer life and death. And it's on with the John Oates era.

It's going to be a little different.

Before the game, a telegram arrived, and Oates hoped it was a good one. He had been asked about telegrams, and though there had been quite a few, there weren't any from, say, Bill Cosby. There was one, however, from Bill Wall. Yeah, you know, Bill Wall. He went to high school with Oates.

"I didn't get one from the queen, but she was just here a few days ago, so I didn't expect to hear from her," Oates said in his best deadpan style. "President and Mrs. Bush -- I had just seen them, so . . ."

So, he opened the telegram, and a big smile came over his face. He had hit the jackpot.

"This one's from the king," Oates said, showing the telegram around.

Not Elvis, but close. It was from Reggie Jackson, a former teammate and royalty of a kind.

"Now, why would he take the time to do that?" Oates wondered.

He really did wonder -- because that's who John Oates is. He's an unassuming man who says he's flattered by all the attention he's received. Mainly because he's never received much, not that he ever expected any.

As a college player, he never thought he'd be signed to a pro contract. As a minor leaguer, he didn't know if he'd play in the majors. When he hit the majors, he never for a moment guessed he'd be a star. He was just John Oates, journeyman. All you have to do is look around the office -- yes, his office -- for evidence of that.

No trophies. No pictures on the wall of Oates mugging with celebrities. No nothing, really, except a schedule. Oh, and his wife has bought him one of those drawings of Memorial Stadium, and he's going to put that up.

"I guess there's room," he said, still deadpan.

Told you he was enjoying it. This is what he dreamed of. This is what he thought was possible. This is where John Oates figures he belongs. It's certainly the job for which he's been preparing himself for a decade.

"I feel like I'm in control of my nerves," he said. "I haven't felt nervous at all yet. You have to make decisions, but you've prepared for that. I haven't felt pressed. I haven't had to call anyone back from home plate or stall when I get to the mound to let a pitcher in the bullpen warm up. I feel like I've made the right moves."

He knows everyone is watching. When you're John Oates and your resume is a little short, you don't get a lot of chances. This could be it.

Oates said the possibility had crossed his mind. But given the chance, he wants to make the most of it. Mostly, he wants to enjoy every moment of it, if it's for one year or for 15.

"If I could do one thing over again," Oates said of his playing career, "I wouldn't have worried so much. I wouldn't have come to the ballpark wondering if I was going to be gone tomorrow. I wouldn't have thought: Will I be released? Will I be traded? That's my biggest regret."

He said he doesn't want to let that happen again. But, still, he couldn't help worrying about when the first win was going to come.

When asked how it felt, he told you exactly.

"I want to eliminate ego and pride from my vocabulary because I want to keep that out of my lifestyle," he said. "But you want to show people that you know a little bit about the game."

Last night Oates showed he knew how to get a starting pitcher into the seventh inning, how to get his bullpen to hold a lead, how to get Randy Milligan to hit a three-run homer. As any ex-manager could have told him, that's how you get to be a genius in this game.

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