Davey Johnson offers package O's should seal

October 03, 1994|By JOHN STEADMAN

If the Baltimore Orioles absolutely want the best available manager in baseball, all they need do, after looking the field over, is sign Dave Johnson. He's endowed with all the required qualifications -- a remarkable understanding of the game, inherent intelligence and strong leadership. He also has a hard and fast record as a winner everywhere he has been.

Combine this with exceptional skills as a communicator and the Orioles, if they take him, will be making a decision that can't help but be in their best interests. Right now, they ought to prepare a contract and get him fitted for a uniform with his familiar No. 15 on back.

The fact Johnson was once an excellent player for the Orioles should have nothing to do with the selection. It's extraneous.

What's important is Johnson already has achieved high stature. In fact, among current major-league managers with 500 or more games, his percentage is the best, ahead of Cito Gaston, Sparky Anderson, Tony La Russa, Tom Lasorda and anyone else you care to name.

He played on four Baltimore World Series teams, managed the New York Mets to a championship and before that won pennants in two minor leagues, plus the Triple-A World Series at Tidewater in 1983. Frank Cashen, former general manager of the Mets and Orioles, gave him the New York position and watched his teams finish first on two occasions, second four times, and when they fell to fourth place early in 1990 Johnson got the gate.

Dave believed another chance would soon come, but it didn't and he worried. "I asked Frank Cashen if the game had blackballed me," Dave wondered aloud two years ago. "But Frank told me, 'Of course not. If I had a team I'd hire you.' "

Cashen continues to feel that way. It's possible general manager Roland Hemond and owner Peter Angelos already have talked (( with him about Johnson, or will do so shortly.

It was on Nov. 2, 1992, that a long story on Johnson appeared in The Evening Sun. It provided a look at Johnson from a perspective of two years ago when he was unemployed and it can be re-read now as he's being considered by the Orioles. Let's reprint part of what was written at that time:

"Baseball's best manager, without even a semblance of discussion or debate, is Dave Johnson. And he doesn't have a job. A sad commentary and certainly a sorry indictment in an endeavor where teams supposedly are trying to win. That a man of his extraordinary skills remains among the unemployed is an embarrassment to a business that prefers to call itself a sport.

"Johnson has intelligence and credibility. He doesn't deal in a two-faced manner with players. . . . His judgment and communication skills are exceptional. . . . Johnson is inherently bright, as indicated by the fact he was a mathematics major at Texas A&M and could figure a batting average without the assistance of a tutor or a computer. While a teen-ager, he learned to fly an airplane. Leadership, articulation and a profound understanding of the game are among the important characteristics he brings with him. . . ."

At the time, Johnson said he was desperate to return to baseball and would be pleased to fill an Orioles coaching vacancy that then existed, a job that went to Jerry Narron, who had managed successfully in the minor-league system and was rewarded with a promotion.

Dave, shut out of managing or coaching, accepted a lesser role and became a consultant to the Cincinnati Reds. He lost out for the managership to hometown hero Tony Perez. Only seven weeks into the 1993 season, Johnson replaced Perez.

Oddly enough, another Reds candidate, Bobby Valentine, was asked during the original interview if he had his choice of any manager in the country, who would it be?

Valentine answered, "Dave Johnson." The Reds still went with Perez.

As to Johnson's philosophy of managing, here's what he had to say two years ago: "You can't vacillate or waffle. Put it this way. My name is Dave Johnson, not Bill Clinton. It's important to have a strong opinion and stay with it. As a manager, you prepare a team professionally, treat the players as grown men without a lot of childish rules and help a team relax at game time, ready to produce its ultimate."

There's a strange way the Orioles are proceeding, a cart-before-the horse scenario. The front office fired pitching coach Dick Bosman, possibly for Mike Flanagan; and it's reported hitting coach Greg Biagini may go, supplanted by Merv Rettenmund. Such moves usually are made by the incoming manager, not the owner or general manager.

In this case, the general manager, Hemond, may be replaced and given another title. The Orioles could be making a blunder since Hemond has been a stabilizing force in all areas of the operation. As for Dave Johnson, sign him before the Cincinnati Reds change their mind.

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