PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Former Orioles manager Johnny Oates, just weeks into his new managerial assignment with the Texas Rangers, was granted a two-week leave of absence by the club yesterday so he can remain at home while his wife, Gloria, recovers from physical and emotional exhaustion.
Oates left the team last weekend, when his wife fell ill on a car trip from their home in Colonial Heights, Va., to the Rangers' spring training complex in Florida. There was speculation that he might resign before ever managing a regular-season game in pTC Texas, but general manager Doug Melvin announced yesterday that Oates would be given a 14-day leave and third base coach Jerry Narron, formerly with Oates in Baltimore, would take over as interim manager.
"The most important thing right now is for Johnny to be with Gloria and his family," said Melvin, "then to be ready to come back full-bore. Yesterday, we had talked about him coming back for Opening Day. He was pushing for Opening Day, but after consulting with Gloria's doctors, it was decided that it would be in her best interests at this time for him to take two weeks."
The Rangers expect Oates to return at that time, but the decision to designate Narron as the interim manager is an indication that the club is preparing for the possibility that the arrangement might become permanent. Dugout coach Bucky Dent was the acting manager for the first six days of Oates' absence, but Narron was Oates' right-hand man in Baltimore and also managed under Melvin in the Orioles' minor-league system.
"Jerry is more familiar with Johnny's style and with American League personnel and the managers on the other clubs," Melvin said. "The relationship we have and the fact that he managed for me when I was farm director . . . that was a factor, too."
Narron's relationship with Oates also was a consideration. The two will be in daily contact as the Rangers pare down to a 28-man major-league roster and make a variety of decisions concerning the club, but Melvin stressed that Narron will be in charge until Oates returns.
"Johnny will be a part of the decision we are making as much as he can be without actually being with the club," Melvin said. "The ballclub is going to work without Johnny here. We'll be updating him daily so that he can keep abreast."
Oates was not available for comment. He released a prepared statement thanking Melvin and the Rangers organization for their understanding and patience.
"We are certainly aware of the importance of this time of year for a professional baseball team and that is more so with our team because of the numerous changes we have made in the last few months," Oates said in the statement. "That being said, we also know how important is the health of our loved ones, and it must always come first."
The past year has been very difficult for Oates, who fell out of favor with Orioles owner Peter Angelos last summer and endured a stress-filled 1994 season before being fired in September. He followed Melvin to Texas to help with the overhaul of the Rangers organization, but had to leave camp just two days into the exhibition season.
His absence had been a day-to-day thing until Wednesday night, when Melvin told him that the club needed to know how long he would be away. Oates conferred with his wife's doctors, then requested the two-week leave. He apparently wasn't sure that it would be granted.
"It was like he was nervous about asking," Melvin said. "I think because he is working for new ownership, he was worried what the ownership would think. Our owners didn't even question it.
"He made a point to me that he wanted to let the ownership know that he wants to manage this ballclub. That's extremely important to him. And he wants to do it the right way."
Still, it was just as important to Melvin to assure that the club would be in good hands if Oates later decided not to return. Dent was certainly qualified. He managed parts of two major-league seasons with the New York Yankees. But Narron was among the finalists when Melvin was searching for a replacement for Kevin Kennedy.
In fact, Melvin might have gone with Narron if circumstances had not dictated that the Rangers hire someone with major-league experience. The organization gave Doug Rader, Bobby Valentine, Toby Harrah and Kennedy their first major-league jobs, but never had any appreciable on-field success.
If nothing else, it will be a quick study for Narron, who managed at all three levels of the Orioles' minor-league system. He's happy for the opportunity, but he isn't looking for it to become a permanent arrangement.
"I feel terrible about the situation with Johnny," he said. "I have tremendous respect for Johnny and his family. I would like to see him back here tomorrow -- with the family back to 100 percent -- but I'm going to do the best I can."