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Former O's Manager Oates Dies

By Jorge Arangure Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 25, 2004; Page D1

On the first day of Oriole Park at Camden Yards in 1992, then Baltimore Orioles manager Johnny Oates, a man known to obsess only about the game on the field, had not taken a moment to examine the new ballpark. It was only at the urging of his wife, Gloria, that Oates took five minutes at the end of the first game to appreciate what many considered the most grand stadium in baseball.

Oates' outlook changed drastically after being diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme, a severe brain tumor, in the summer of 2001. Baseball became secondary to his wife and family and religion. The tiniest details outside of baseball became most important. Oates chose to believe cancer had made him a better man, not a stricken one.

Johnny Oates shared the 1996 manager of the year award with the New York Yankees' Joe Torre. He was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2001. (Joel Richardson -- The Washington Post)

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Oates died of cancer at 2 a.m. yesterday at Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center in Richmond with his wife and brother at his side. He was 58.

"Johnny Oates was a true gentleman," Orioles owner Peter Angelos said in a statement. "He faced this disease the way he looked at life -- with class and dignity. I know I speak for the entire organization and Orioles' fans in expressing our deepest sympathies to his wife Gloria and his family and friends. We will truly miss him."

Oates began his major league playing career in 1970 as a backup catcher with the Orioles. That year he met Cal Ripken Sr., a man he credited for his 11-year playing career. In his career, Oates hit .250 with 14 home runs. Always self deprecating, he said of his career, "I still don't know how I got to the big leagues because I wasn't that good."

Oates compiled a 291-270 record with the Orioles from 1991 to '94 and managed the team to a second-place finish during the strike-shortened season of 1994. He was fired after the 1994 season and shortly after was named manager of the Texas Rangers. In seven seasons with the Rangers, Oates led the team to its first three postseason appearances and shared the manager of the year award with the New York Yankees' Joe Torre in 1996.

Oates, after an 11-17 start, quit during the 2001 season and was diagnosed with a brain tumor only six months later. He had surgery to remove the tumor in November of that year, but the cancer returned in April 2003.

"Throw away what he did in baseball and you still have a special man," said Rangers Manager Buck Showalter, who spoke regularly with Oates. "Baseball did not define Johnny. It's a sad day, but a happy day. Johnny is in a better place. Gloria said one of their prayers was that he would be in Heaven before Christmas. I bet there will be a heck of a baseball game up there tomorrow . . . no, the day after tomorrow. It will take John time to get organized."

Oates refused to let the disease control his life. He often attended local baseball games near his home outside of Richmond. In 2002 Oates attended Opening Day at Camden Yards.

"This is not a script I've written for myself," Oates said in a 2002 interview. "I'd rather be managing a ballclub somewhere. But this is what I've been dealt. And I'm at peace with it."

© 2004 The Washington Post Company