Oates manages fine thanks to family, friends

September 28, 1994|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Sun Staff Writer

COLONIAL HEIGHTS, Va. -- There's no crying in baseball and there were no tears at the residence of Johnny Oates yesterday. No bitterness was served here.

The day before, Oates had officially been informed that he was no longer manager of the Orioles. There was disappointment and hurt, but not complete surprise.

After he got the news, Monday became "Family Day" for Oates. He issued a brief statement through the Orioles' office and, except for two personal phone calls, spent the day with those closest to him.

Wife Gloria and daughters Laurie, an elementary school reading teacher, and Jenny, a 15-year-old high school sophomore, got the up-close-and-personal treatment. About 150 miles away, son Andy, an 18-year-old freshman baseball player at Virginia Tech, was feeling lonely, but became a long-distance participant in what turned into a group therapy session.

"This [being fired] is a thunderstorm in my life," Oates said. "After it rains, the roots grow deeper and stronger -- and that's what's taking place here right now.

"Yesterday [Monday], I spoke with very few people because I felt it was important to spend time with my family -- to make sure they were comfortable and tell them there are a lot worse things that could've happened to me. I didn't want them going to school feeling depressed."

The message came across loud and clear. "When Jenny went to school [yesterday], she wore every piece of Oriole clothing she could find," said Oates. "It was her way of breaking the ice with her friends so they wouldn't feel uncomfortable -- and to say that we're proud of the job we did in Baltimore."

Of the 40 phone calls that he received Monday evening, Oates picked up only two. The first was from former Orioles president Larry Lucchino, the second from Detroit Tigers manager Sparky Anderson.

"Both of those calls were very motivating and assuring to me," said Oates. "I hadn't talked to Larry in almost a year and we had a good conversation."

Anderson has long been one of Oates' biggest fans and expressed disgust during the season when rumors surfaced that Oates' job was in jeopardy. "Sparky has always been very good to me and he told me not to jump at the first offer that came along because he was sure there would be more," said Oates. "It was a gratifying conversation."

After a day of solitude with his family, Oates spent all but two hours between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. yesterday returning, and receiving, phone calls. "It's flattering," he said, "to know that many people care."

His day began at dawn, when Oates went to retrieve his morning newspaper and found a Baltimore television crew in front of his house.

At dusk last night, Oates conducted a series of television interviews at Shepherd Stadium, a park where he and his son played American Legion baseball. "I hit two home runs in this park," he recalled, poking fun at his limited hitting ability as a player. "Both came after the right fielder dropped foul balls because of the sun."

Throughout the day, Oates was asked if he was bitter at the awkward nature of his dismissal -- first at the rumors and then after it had been revealed that the Orioles had sought, and been denied, permission to talk to Oakland A's manager Tony La Russa.

Each questioner got essentially the same answer. "The first feeling, naturally, was one of disappointment," he said. "I had hoped things would work themselves out. But then reality set in, and I realized that wasn't going to happen.

"The second feeling was thankfulness that the Baltimore Orioles gave me the chance to manage at the big-league level. The first chance is always the toughest to get and a lot of guys never get that opportunity. That's the tough one -- now it's up to me to get another opportunity."

Oates went out of his way not to blame owner Peter Angelos, either for the firing or the manner in which it was handled. "There's new ownership and a lot of times they just want to put their stamp on the club," he said. "I understand that.

"And even though the announcement might have been awkward from a media standpoint, that was because of me, not the ballclub. Roland [general manager Hemond] had called me Sunday night and told me things didn't look good and that they wanted me to come up there for a 3 o'clock meeting Monday afternoon.

"But I had made a commitment to play in a [Cystic Fibrosis] charity golf tournament, and since they had gone out of their way to invite and make room for me, I didn't want to break it. Then word leaked out and it [the announcement] wasn't going to hold another day. If it was anybody's fault that it was awkward, it was mine because I didn't want to break that commitment."

Oates is only an occasional golfer and was surprised that he played "the best I've ever played in my life -- we were 13-under par -- and finished second."

He was jokingly reminded that second, obviously, wasn't good enough. The Orioles finished this disrupted season 14 games over .500 -- but in second place.

Oates, who can be comforted by the fact that he'll earn $350,000 on a contract guaranteed through next season, says he hasn't had any contact with other major-league teams. He seemed confident that would soon change.

"Hopefully something will happen in the next three or four days -- or three or four weeks," he said. "I'm just going to sit back and see what happens."

With that Johnny Oates moved into the next stage of his career.

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