Even before the Texas Rangers have won a game, it is proper to call Doug Rader manager of the year. Not, however, in capital letters as in Manager of the Year, baseball's official recognition of meritorious leadership, usually with a pennant to prove it.
Doug Rader is merely the manager of the Rangers this year, meaning he is the latest in a procession of hired and fired Ranger mangers. They have had 11 years in the league, which rounds out to an average of one per season, good enough to lead the league in ex-managers. It is historic that Ranger managers have had the same security as a tank trying to negotiate thin ice.
But Doug Rader wanted this job badly, he says. This or any other major league managing job that would open up during those three years he was making a name for himself managing San Diego's Triple A team in Hawaii. Rader put it simply. "I wanted to be a big league manager. It was an ambition."
And then the pixie surfaced as it sometimes does in this usually serious baseball man, who added, "Besides, it helps fill out a day."
Also, to help fill out a day in the Ranger's camp, their new manager takes his glove onto the infield with him and shows two or three infielders how to come up with ground balls, pitches batting practice on occasion, coaches hitters from behind that batting cage, while keeping an eye peeled for any player who is loafing, and raises hell from across the diamond when necessary. Later in the day he manages a whole game against whoever is in town.
Rader is no fantasizing Walter Mitty plunged into the job of his dreams. To it he brings solid credentials. When he wants to tinker with a rookie's batting swing, he does it as a fellow who was a fair hand with the bat himself, hitting 25 homers for the Astros one season and 22 another. Can he give counsel to an infielder? Manager Rader is a five-time National League Gold Glove winner for third basemen, for his deeds with Houston.
Rader alerted everybody he was a no-nonsense manager when the Raders hit camp. Off with those beards, he told them. He didn't like beards. "Mustaches are not that offensive," he said. "But beards give the team a bad, hippie image and we want respect."
He hit 'em with another rule, quickly. "None of that fraternizing with players on the other club," he said. "It doesn't go at all, not even in spring training. You can't like the man you're playing against later in the day. This isn't a friendly game."
And more: "None of that high-five stuff, either. That started in basketball.... This is baseball. You want to congratulate a teammate you can touch his toes with your spikes. That ain't so childish."
Coming from a rookie manager, it was strong stuff, and in some camps apt to cause a rebellion. But none has been noted here. Rader has the physique of an enforcer. His playing weight was 228. His managerial weight is, they say, even more than 250 on a 6-foot-3 frame, and he admits, "I'm aggressive."
In the Rangers' first exhibition game the umpires got quick notice that the new boy on the block was not timid about making himself heard from the bench. On one call that he didn't like, Rader yelled to plate umpire Jerry Neudecker, "That's the 15th pitch you've missed!" In the third inning, Rader got thrown out of the first game he managed in the majors.
"Those umpires were batting me," Rader said. "You can't let 'em get away with that, or you lead a miserable life."
While managing Hawaii, Rader was no friend of the umpires but he always protested with cause, said Burton Hawkins, the Rangers' public relations director. "They tell me that when the catcher didn't like the call, Rader instructed him to pick up a little dirt and throw it back to the ground to alert him. Then Rader would raise hell."
Why did the Rangers decide on Rader? 'Twas a simple choice, said the general manager, Joe Klein. "We surveyed everybody available -- former managers, major league coaches, minor league managers and coaches, and former players. Doug's name turned up highest on every list of the things we were looking for."
Klein related how Rader can use the very telling, if indirect, approach to players loafing in training camp. "Doug went up to one of our veterans the other day and said, simply, "If that is your best effort, it could be very dangerous to your income tax bracket." The fellow got the message."
If Rader appears rhetorically to be a cut above the basic big league manager, well, he was a psychology major at Illinois Wesleyan University in addition to playing third base there, and says he vaguely remembers that Dave Kindred was part of their third-to-second-to-first double play combination. He also asked, "How is old Dave?"
He didn't quite graduate from that college, he said. "The military and my marriage and children got in the way of a degree. You could say my status was either that of a third-semester sophomore or a first-semester junior."
The Astros offered him a $25,000 bonus for signing one day before a $50,000 offer came from the Cardinals. Rader said, "I asked my father what I should do, and he asked, "Did you give the Astros your word?" And when I said, "Yes," he said, "Then you're an Astro.""
Rader's easy command of the language is evident when he says of losing exhibition games, "Instructions and development will override results"; and when he said of rookie catcher Bob Johnson, "He's done everything to justify his presence." Of one rookie infielder's erratic performance, Rader said, "It is very dangerous to make evaluations too speedily." Ah, there, Casey Stengel.
One of the problems with this Rangers organization in the past, he said, "has been that some players' shortcominings have been emphasized too much. How many complete ballplayers are there, anyway? One has to come to terms with that reality." He's big on overview.
Rader is operating on a one-year contract, which to some managers would seem somewhat shy of a solid vote of confidence. But Rader said he didn't view it as a one-year thing at all. Actually, he said, he knows he is supposed to show results in six months, or else. Nothing vague about that, he said, and besides this was exactly the job he asked for.