Oates started out his career in the Baltimore Orioles system, the team he would end up managing nearly 20 years later. He ended up playing in more games than Andy Etchebarren during the 1972 season. He was traded to the Atlanta Braves where he was their everyday catcher for two seasons and platooned with Bob Boone with the Phillies in 1976 and 1977. 1976 was his first appearance in the postseason, with Oates getting 1 AB in the 1976 NLCS for the Phillies vs Cincinnati. He was traded to the Los Angles Dodgers after that season, where he appeared in the 1977 and 1978 World Series for the Dodgers. After the 1979 season, he moved on to the Yankees where he played for them in 1980 and 1981. Despite being finished as a useful player, he was on the 1981 Yankees team that eventually made it to the World Series, though Oates was not part of the postseason roster.
Oates started managing right away after he finished playing in 1981 after studying the game very well as a catcher for many years. He ended up in the Yankees, Cubs and Orioles systems before serving as a coach for the Orioles from 1988 to 1991. After taking over for Frank Robinson in 1991, he led the Orioles to three consecutive winning seasons before taking the same job with the Texas Rangers. With the Rangers, Oates would have four winning seasons out of his six full, with 3 AL West Titles to go with it. He became the first Rangers manager in the history of the franchise to win a AL West division title, though Kevin Kennedy led the team to a first place finish in the strike shortened 1994 season.
The one thing that always seemed to follow Oates is success and postseason appearances. The Yankees seemed to have his number, though. The Yankees beat Oates Dodgers in both the 1977 and 1978 World Series and eliminated the Rangers in the division series in 1996, 1998 and 1999. George Steinbrenner knew what he was doing when he kept Oates around as a manager in the minors when he finished playing. No question he would have been a Yankees manager had he not been tabbed in Baltimore. Even as the Orioles catcher, he played on a very good team that had just won the World Series in 1970 and the AL Pennant in 1971. It doesn't seem like it has been 9 years since Johnny Oates has passed.