Whitey Herzog and Davey Johnson: A pair of good managers without jobs

February 10, 1991|By Joseph Durso | Joseph Durso,New York Times News Service

This may be more of a recession note than a baseball note. But two of the smartest managers in baseball are out of work as we turn toward spring training, and the phone isn't ringing.

For Whitey Herzog, this hasn't happened since he became a manager in the big leagues with the Texas Rangers in 1973. For Davey Johnson, it hasn't happened since he became a manager with the New York Mets in 1984. So, they are not exactly the chronically unemployed.

But it's happening now for different reasons. Herzog got disgusted with the St. Louis Cardinals' players last summer when they seemed to be focusing more on their next contracts than on their next game, and he stepped out of the dugout and into some vague scouting duties.

And it's happening to Johnson because the Mets sacked him May 29 after the best six-year run in the business.

Strictly speaking, they may be out of jobs but they're not out of coin. The Cardinals are still paying Herzog more than $500,000 for just being the White Rat, in uniform or not.

The Mets must pay Johnson $500,000 this year because it's the final year of his contract. But it's strange: They used to get paid for outsmarting each other; now they're getting paid for not.

But they were smart enough to be business partners even when they were business enemies. They are two of the founding partners in a celebrity fishing resort near Ocala, Fla., and any day now the city slickers will be forking over big bills for the chance to catch a couple of catfish with baseball's two most successful dropouts.

And Johnson, a whirling dervish in real estate and investing, has always been something of a one-man conglomerate.

Herzog is off skiing and doing some fishing on his own these days. But Johnson is minding the store and, when the telephone rang the other day in his home down the road near Orlando, he answered it.

No, it wasn't opportunity calling; just a guy from his baseball past wanting to know if he had a baseball future.

"We're keeping a low profile," Johnson reported, laughing at the incongruity of it all. "I guess we kept a high profile for a while."

High profile? They're a tough act to follow, two of the strategic brains in the business, shrewd and even slick, and rip-roaring on stage. Remember when they used to fight each other down to the last pitch, often thrown by Herzog's seventh pitcher in the game against Johnson's pinch-hitter for a pinch-hitter?

Remember how they even sniped at each other through the umpires, impounding bats and X-raying them for cork? Remember that they won five Eastern Division titles and four National League pennants between them during a seven-year stretch in the 1980s?

Now, Herzog is skiing and fishing and Johnson is selling real estate in a bare market. But they are one telephone call away from staging the old act.

"Whitey and I talk about it all the time," Johnson was saying. "I tell him we'll split the job. I'll be the manager, and you be the general manager. Then, halfway through the season, you can fire me. And I'll become the general manager, and you take the team on the field as the manager."

But is the telephone ringing?

"I'm here," he said. "If somebody wants me, that's up to them. But I'm not in a hurry. I'm still being paid by the Mets. If somebody's smart enough to know he wants me, I'm here. I'm making $500,000 a year.

"Other clubs know I'm making that kind of money. I don't think that's a factor. If anybody hires me, the Mets pay the difference."

One reason they're keeping a low profile these days is that they don't have to bang drums to get attention. The record shouts for itself.

"Whitey does some scouting for the Cardinals," Johnson said. "The Mets don't want me to do anything. I'm spending a lot of time watching war movies on TV. But I'm feeling good.

"Bud Harrelson and Mel Stottlemyre were here. They're both involved in the fishing camp. I'm busy doing some things with arena football and celebrity resorts.

"A lot of people invested money in our fishing camp. It's like when I was with the Mets: I gave my energy then for Doubleday and Wilpon. They invested in me. Now, these people have invested in me, too.

"The real estate business is slow. I've got a lot of horse farms for sale down here. They used to give you tax relief if you raised horses as a second business. But they took it away. When there's a reason again, people will spend on horse farms again.'

But when will people spend on baseball smarts again? Johnson implied that the phone hadn't been entirely silent since the Mets sacked him. But he hasn't received "the call" yet.

"Look," he said, sounding like a man who expects something to happen, "I think I'll be back in the game this year. But not probably until after July. That's when the teams will need help. And maybe some of them will be smart enough to call me."

The line forms on the right, boys. Herzog and Johnson, managers at large.

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