For the first March of his adult life, Davey Johnson isn't putting on a baseball uniform each day.
Instead, many mornings find him slipping on jeans and a sweater and plying gentle North Florida waters for bass. Or overseeing development of a celebrity recreation camp he hopes will be the crowning achievement of his three decades of business dealings. And Johnson, who has a thriving real estate investment company among other business interests, also plays 2-handicap golf.
He says he is relaxed, no longer a natural choice for the antacid commercials he did as New York Mets manager.
"This is fun. This is stress management," he said, lounging on the sofa near a fireplace with an alligator head on its mantle. "It's something being out there on the lake when the sun comes up, a thousand ducks flying around."
However, the arrival of spring training in Florida has him "getting a little bit antsy," Johnson admitted. "I've always been there. I'm going through a little withdrawal."
The former Baltimore Orioles and Atlanta Braves second baseman, 48, said he has no doubt he will back in uniform, perhaps well before next spring training. When he was fired from the struggling Mets last May, Johnson held the best record in major-league baseball since his 1984 entry as manager at 595-417, a .588 percentage, with a 1986 world championship.
Florida, with three cities among the six finalists, is almost certain to land at least one National League expansion franchise for 1993, and that team just might want an experienced NL manager.
* CARDINALS: Willie McGee and Vince Coleman are fleeting memories in St. Louis. The future belongs to Bernard Gilkey and Ray Lankford.
"It's just a matter of his hitting on a regular basis," manager Joe Torre said of Gilkey. "I like his aggressiveness and work ethic."
Gilkey went 3-for-5 with two doubles, a single and a walk in Friday's 11-3 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays.
Cookie Rojas, an advance scout for the California Angels, said Gilkey's first at-bat against Dave Steib was a sign that the rookie was ready to play in the majors.
"He fouled off four tough pitches then doubled to left," Rojas said. "That's the sign of a good hitter."
Gilkey batted .297 in 18 games with the Cardinals last fall. At Class AAA Louisville, he hit .295 with 45 stolen bases and 46 RBIs.
Gilkey is competing with Milt Thompson for the starting job in left field.
* TIGERS: Sparky Anderson is talking about managing Detroit until he's 65, nine more years. That is a far cry from the man who cried he was burned out only two years ago.
Anderson seems happy, perhaps as happy as he's been since he got his first big-league job 21 years ago.
"I've really made up my mind not to put any dates on it, or anything like that," Anderson said. "I think this club, the way it acts, is going to make me want to go a lot longer. I see a lot of things I like around here now, especially the way people act.
"I have a problem, and I know it. I have a hangup. I feel that no matter if you make all the money in the world, you should never let it affect the way you act and treat people. . . . I wish a young man who makes a lot of money would understand that has nothing to do with the kind of person he is. That's just a bonus."
Anderson didn't name any names, but one ballplayer who could be unpleasant and who recently left the Tigers as a free agent is Morris.
"This group here is about as good as I've seen," Anderson said. "I haven't been around a group any better than this. This group might make me want to go long, long. I don't know. But I don't have any goal on it no more."
Anderson also has lost a rival in the club power structure, Bill Lajoie, the Tigers' longtime general manager. Lajoie quit early this year and took a scouting job with the Atlanta Braves.
Anderson and Lajoie reportedly disagreed frequently on personnel matters, including the coaching staff.