Nestled away beneath the trees of the Southern University campus, tucked away behind the left-field wall of Lee-Hines Field, sits the house that Roger built.
It’s a modest clubhouse when compared to larger college baseball programs — a few offices for the three coaches on staff, a locker room for players and a reception area at the front that largely goes unused. Just recently, Southern decorated the building with pictures of famous Jaguars like Lou Brock and Danny Goodwin, a drastic improvement to the once-bare walls.
But walk through the large double doors to the left of the entrance and into the office of Roger Cador, and you'll find the history of one of baseball’s most influential figures played out on the walls.
The wooden trophy case in the corner is filled to the brim with only some of his 14 SWAC tournament trophies and just as many Coach of the Year honors. Pictures with Hank Aaron and Dusty Baker and other legends surround the room. Newspaper clippings from Rickie Weeks’ successful campaign for the Golden Spikes Award hang over a side table. There are game balls from some of the biggest moments in Southern history.
It’s former players and past friends. It’s trinkets and mementoes picked up over three decades as a coach and a lifetime dedicated to the game he loves.
This is the legacy of Roger Cador, a man known around the baseball world for his contributions to the sport, from building one of the most successful HBCU programs of all-time to being an ambassador to Major League Baseball to helping fundraise for Baton Rouge area charities.
Cador officially announced his retirement from coaching Friday morning in a news conference after weeks of speculation, ending his 33-year career on the Bluff. He finished with a career record of 913-597-1, a dozen 30-win seasons, 11 NCAA regional appearances, 10 All-Americans, three NCAA regional wins and 62 players drafted by MLB teams.
Cador will remain with Southern but in a noncoaching capacity. It's yet to be announced what that new role will be.
"Baseball at Southern University doesn't belong to me," Cador said. "It belongs to to Southern and the state of Louisiana. That's what makes it easier to walk away now."
It’s impossible to understand what Cador accomplished at Southern without talking about the grocery basket.
The grocery basket is a symbol of the struggles the man from New Roads faced at the start of his career — as well as what he overcame.
When Cador was promoted from an assistant coach in August 1984, the entirety of the program fit into a stolen grocery basket kept in a closet at Pete Goldsby Field, an off-campus location near downtown that was the Jaguars’ home in the early days.
The once-proud Jaguars had fallen on hard times. They were left with just a few dirty uniforms and some old practice balls, all kept in that basket.
There was virtually no equipment, no facilities, a minimal budget and little incentive to fix any of it. Only a few years removed from his playing days, Cador didn’t know where to begin, so he called friends from around baseball, looking for donations.
One of his first calls was to a young hitting coach with the San Francisco Giants by the name of Dusty Baker, a friend from his playing days.
Cador asked whether Baker — now manager of the Washington Nationals — could convince the Giants to donate any spare equipment. Without hesitation, Baker jumped at the chance to help his former teammate, telling him to meet the team on a road swing through Atlanta.
Baker not only convinced the Giants to donate equipment, he got the Braves to do the same. In a day, Southern baseball went from a grocery basket to needing UPS to ship all of their equipment back to Baton Rouge.
“It’s his genuineness,” Baker said. “The fact that he cares so much about the game, his players, the school of Southern University, and you want to help somebody that has that deep, genuine concern for what they’re doing. He’s touched many, many lives.”
Legendary LSU coach Skip Bertman arrived in Baton Rouge the summer before Cador took over at Southern, but from the moment they met, the future pillars of Louisiana baseball bonded.
As soon as Cador was announced as the Jaguars’ new coach, Bertman invited him to his annual season-opening news conference so he could introduce his new counterpart from the north side of the city to the press. It was there the coaches announced the annual Mayor’s Cup, a three-game series split between the schools and one of Bertman’s fondest memories of their relationship.
LSU usually came out on top, but Cador always made the game more interesting than it should’ve been. At the time, LSU was a burgeoning national contender, while Cador was slowly building a respectable program.
Cador said his fondest memory of their friendship was how committed both were to community service and helping the Baton Rouge community.
One of the most significant aspects of Southern’s program during those early days, Bertman recalled, was how much Cador achieved despite a complete lack of resources. The most notable example: Cador’s makeshift batting cages.
Cador pushed the university to set up nets beneath the overpass into campus, affectionately known as “The Hump.” They weren’t much, but they were something, and it was all because of Cador’s efforts. The remnants of those batting cages, long since abandoned, can still be seen behind the visitors dugout.
“Roger’s not always had the equipment, the scholarships, fan base, support — although they’re wonderful people at Southern — there’s many other activities,” Bertman said. “But Roger has never complained one bit and has been a great representative of Southern University. He didn’t have everything that I had or the coach at LSU now has in terms of another pitching machine or a FungoMan and those extra goodies that coaches have in the Southeastern Conference. Whenever he asked for something, it was always for the players. He never asked for himself.”
Around the SWAC, Cador's reputation is unimpeachable. When Texas Southern coach Michael Robertson first heard the news of Cador's retirement after a team practice before the Tigers' NCAA regional game Friday, he was floored by the loss of the man he called "The Godfather" of SWAC baseball.
Similar to Bertman, Robertson recalled his first meeting with Cador about 15 years ago. He said Cador tried to impress upon the younger coaches what it would take to overcome the adversity they would inevitably face during their careers.
At the time, Robertson said, he wasn't aware just how true Cador's words would be.
"He reminded us about his start at Southern with the basket of balls and he ends up building it into an empire," Robertson said. "Back then, I wasn't getting it until I ran into some adversity and I was about to make some bad decision in my coaching career, but he was always the one that reminded us, the young coaches, that you have to stay the course. He always reminded us about working hard, and you have to stay the course. I took his advice, and I know for me, it's made me a better coach."
It’s hard to nail down Cador’s greatest achievement at Southern. The most famous came in 1987, when Southern became the first HBCU to win a game in an NCAA regional, upsetting No. 2 Cal State Fullerton 1-0 in New Orleans.
One of Cador’s favorite stories about that game is that, about a year earlier in a meeting with all of Southern’s coaches, the university president singled out the baseball program, saying it would never have a facility on campus, and it would remain playing offsite. Cador was humiliated in front of his peers but remained quiet — and patient.
Less than a year later, after the Cal State Fullerton upset put the baseball program on the national stage, funding was almost immediately approved for the construction of Lee Hines Field.
At that moment, Cador became a fixture of Southern athletics.
“He means a great deal to Southern University,” iconic Southern football coach Pete Richardson said. “He came through the transition of building a program and the number of great student-athletes he’s had over the last few years has been outstanding. It’s a program that’s thought of tremendously throughout the country with what type of quality of program he’s implemented at Southern University.”
The achievement that stuck out most to Cador, naturally, wasn’t his own. Cador called the campaign to make Rickie Weeks the 2003 Golden Spikes Award winner a two-year process, starting when Weeks won his first NCAA batting title in 2002 as a sophomore.
In his junior season, Weeks — now an outfielder with the Tampa Bay Rays and in his 14th MLB season — again won the batting title, posting a .479 average and 16 home runs. His career batting average of .465 remains the highest in NCAA history.
Cador called in every favor he had saved up over his career and put on thick the famous Cajun charm he’s known for. As he put it, his people skills and public relations abilities were always his strongest attributes.
When Weeks' name was finally announced as the nation’s best amateur baseball player, it was as much Cador’s victory as Weeks'.
“A lot of time, when you go out in the community or just around Southern’s campus and he’s able to talk to people, they can believe in him because that’s what he does,” Weeks said. “He’s not just saying anything and then all of a sudden goes off and does something different. The biggest thing for him is being able to have that persona where he’s the man. He’s the man because they believe in what he does.”
Cador's friends and followers are eager and pleased to praise him. That's partially because he’s charismatic, but it’s also because he has never been the type to say no when a friend needs a favor.
Cador worked extensively as an ambassador for the sport, helping MLB with its diversity task force in an effort to bring baseball back to inner-city communities. His plans for retirement included continuing that sprit of ambassadorship, with several speaking arrangements in the works.
He has raised money for just about every cause in Baton Rouge, from the American Heart Association to local little league teams. Every year, when Southern hosts its fundraiser banquet, Cador makes sure to invite the softball team, so its players receive notoriety for their hard work.
“He’s never let what he does for a living become who he is,” longtime Louisiana-Lafayette coach Tony Robichaux said. “We have to be so careful in sports that sports can define us. That one big game that you won or that one big game you lost can define you. The thing I respect about Roger is, he’s never let the game define him. It’s the way he’s lived his life. It’s his personality. To me, that’s what defines Roger Cador — not the game of baseball.”
But if you ask Cador about his legacy, he’ll tell you two things.
The first is how he has influenced the sport by helping former players and coaches climb the ranks of organized baseball. Cador takes immense pride in the people he helped put in positions of authority throughout the sport, the people he says decide who makes it in baseball.
Former players like Marco Paddy, Arnold Brathwaite, Jerry Flowers, Don Thomas and many others dot the landscape of MLB front offices and scouting departments. Barrett Rey played for and coached under Cador at Southern and then coached against him at Alcorn State and Grambling before becoming athletic director at St. Augustine High School in New Orleans.
“It was similar coaching under him as it was playing for him,” Rey said. “He was very demanding as a coach, and rightfully so. It prepared me to go up against him, and it also prepared me to make sure I had successful programs that I was leading, just seeing how he led and understanding everything he did.”
The other aspect of Cador's legacy: He did it all his way.
Cador never shied from who he was, as a coach or a person. Almost to a fault, he stayed the same throughout the past three decades.
He knew who he was and what he believed was right, and that’s what he was going to do — no matter what anyone else thought.
In many ways, he credits his family for that strength. His son, Jonathan, has been a grounding force in the past few years, especially as Cador and the Jaguars fought through NCAA sanctions relating to unsatisfactory Academic Progress Rates.
The past decade or so has seen some of the worst seasons of Cador’s career, which he won’t deny. But as the losses and outside pressure mounted, Cador kept to his ways, refusing to let adversity change him.
Before his wife, Donna Fairfax Cador, died in 2010, she wouldn’t allow her husband to decorate their house with any of his baseball memorabilia. It’s part of the reason why he keeps so much of it in his office now.
Her reasoning was that their home should be a place away from baseball, somewhere Cador didn’t have to think about his latest problem.
He also needed to remember who he was outside of baseball. To this day, he has not forgotten.
"That's the one thing I want to commend Southern for — all the people and the administration and athletic directors who have worked at Southern — for letting me do it my own way," Cador said. "I've been able to do a lot of good things by doing it my way, and I never once embarrassed the university."
The irony of his wife's ban on baseball from their home comes from the fact he never would've had a career coaching the sport if it weren't for her.
For two months Southern tried to persuade Cador to take the coaching job, but he refused. It wasn't until the university president convinced Donna that he should take the position did Roger finally accept.
"He convinced her and she told me when I came home that I had to take the baseball job because I had a fair man who wanted to treat me with dignity to be the baseball coach and that he'd be fair to me," Cador said. "The next day, I accepted the job on August 3rd, and on August 4th, 1984, she and I got in my car and we went to Atlanta to meet Dusty Baker."