Houston — Rich Dauer still struggles putting together the pieces of the day he nearly died. It was supposed to be one of the most exciting days of a 44-year career as a player and coach, celebrating the Houston Astros’ first World Series championship in the franchise’s history.
Dauer — who played parts of nine seasons with some great Orioles teams, including the 1983 championship team — remembers the Astros’ parade ride through the streets of Houston, recording some of it on his phone. He remembers being introduced to the crowd, and waving his hand to acknowledge hundreds of thousands of assembled fans. After that, it all goes blank. The next thing he remembers is waking up in a hospital bed three days later.
That Dauer, 65, was back at Minute Maid Park on Monday, tearfully throwing out the ceremonial first pitch on a night when the Astros unveiled their World Series banner, is nothing short of a miracle. He’s less than five months removed from that day when Houston’s championship parade suddenly turned into a fight for life that Dauer almost lost.
I can function now, so God has something for me.— Former Oriole and Astros coach Rich Dauer
Dauer stumbled on the stage and fell that day. He suffered an acute subdural hematoma. Behind the scenes of the city’s biggest celebration in years, Astros team doctors, EMTs and other team personnel raced against time attempting to get Dauer out of a large crowd to Houston Methodist Hospital and into emergency brain surgery.
The neurosurgeon who performed the surgery, Dr. David Cech, told Dauer’s family, including his wife, Chris, that he had a 3 percent chance of survival. Dauer said at one point he suggested they come say goodbye to him.
“I don’t know,” Dauer said. “I just know that I could have been and the chances were really good that I would be either dead or not be able to function. I can function now, so God has something for me.”
He woke up three days later. He was out of the hospital in two weeks. He visited Orioles minicamp in the offseason, his former teammate Jim Palmer said.
On Monday, Dauer wiped his eyes as he threw the ceremonial first pitch to Astros manager A.J. Hinch. Orioles manager Buck Showalter and several players stood in the dugout and applauded.
"That was the highlight of the night for me,” Showalter said. “I had to go up the runway. God bless him. Rich has been a big part of the Oriole family for years, and I know how well-respected and popular he is for the right reasons. And that was long before he had the challenges he had. To see him get back out, it was a huge moment for him I’m sure, but a lot of people in our dugout were right there with him."
Before that moment, Dauer talked about everything that had to happen for him to survive, that Astros head athletic trainer Jeremiah Randle immediately noticed the severity, that head team physician Dr. David Lintner and team physician Dr. James Muntz bypassed a trip to urgent care and took him directly to the hospital, that Cech was in an annex nearby doing paperwork and able to immediately go to the operating table.
“It was all these things that happened,” Palmer said. “All the stars aligned with that type of injury for him to not only survive it, but to come out of it so quickly. It’s an amazing story.”
While ushering Dauer through the crowd was a challenge, he shrugs that it might have been the best situation for him, saying he would likely have been dead had he fallen the night before at home.
Dauer capped an 18-year coaching career spent with five organizations by winning a championship. Last year was his third as the Astros first base coach. He coached for the Orioles in the minor leagues and was a managerial finalist in November 2003 when Lee Mazzilli was hired, but never coached in the majors for the Orioles.
Dauer was the 13th member of the Orioles’ 1983 championship team to be inducted into the Orioles Hall of Fame six years ago, and when he was, he spoke of his fondness for Baltimore and how he still followed all things Orioles. So to be back while the Orioles were in town was special.
“Well, I grew up in Baltimore,” Dauer said Monday, fighting back tears. “I became a man, became a family. The organization has always meant a lot. But it can’t compare to this one [in Houston], but it’s the Orioles. I always thought I’d be jumping on the mound and winning a World Series with the Orioles [as a coach], but I guess it has to be Houston.”
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Palmer nicknamed Dauer “Wacko” because of his innate sense of humor. Under Palmer’s prompting, Dauer used to address Earl Weaver as “Coach,” which infuriated the Orioles’ Hall of Fame manager. And when Weaver called a rare impromptu team meeting on the final day of the 1982 season, when the Orioles played the Milwaukee Brewers for a playoff spot in what was going to be Weaver’s final regular-season game before retirement, Dauer knew how to crack the room.
“He yelled out, ‘Oh no, don’t tell us you’re not retiring,’ ” Palmer said. “It kind of broke everybody up.”
As the Orioles’ primary second baseman of that time, Dauer played a position that was previously manned by Gold Glove players. Before him, Bobby Grich won four Gold Gloves playing second, and Grich’s predecessor, Davey Johnson, won three of his own. But Dauer was a fine fielder in his own right.
“Richie was just a good all-around player,” Palmer said. “He played on some good teams. … He was a heads-up player. He was funny, but he knew how to play the game. He was really what the Orioles — with a couple of exceptions — were about. He could hit some home runs, but he wasn’t a home run guy. He used the whole field and was a really good defensive second baseman. He fit in perfectly, not just because of his ability but also his temperament.”
Now, he speaks softly. Humor has slightly given way to humility. He’s thankful for days like Monday, when he can talk about being alive to see the birth of his granddaughter Chloe in March, or holding his 3-year-old grandson. He can tell them stories about his baseball career, whether it be his days in Baltimore or Houston.
And on Tuesday, he will receive his second World Series ring.
“I’m going to wear this one a lot,” Dauer said. “When I got the ring with the Orioles, it was awesome because I was a player and on the team. It was awful gaudy, though. It had a lot of diamonds. It was the first of the real diamond [rings]. It was hard to wear it. And now they make them so big that you can’t get them on your finger. The year we went through, the players, it was the best. I can’t wait.”