Johnson deserves united front

October 06, 1994|By KEN ROSENTHAL

Davey Johnson calls it his "main nightmare" -- the prospect of dealing with a three-headed monster in the front office.

His question for the Orioles is simple.

What the heck is going on?

The Orioles keep interviewing potential managers, but the long-awaited reorganization of their front office remains on hold.

Maybe now Peter Angelos will grasp the importance of establishing a chain of command -- the manager reporting to the general manager, and the general manager reporting to the owner.

The idea isn't to satisfy Johnson -- he would come regardless.

The idea is to do things right.

Johnson should be the next manager. Frank Robinson should be the next GM. And whatever his title, Roland Hemond should serve as the intermediary between Angelos and the front office.

The setup is so logical, it probably would be unacceptable to Angelos, who seems to prefer chaos. He didn't create the front-office mess, he inherited it. But one year later, the issue still is unresolved.

Thus, Johnson found it necessary to ask about Doug Melvin yesterday -- if he was going to be the GM in Texas or St. Louis, or if he was coming back.

No doubt, that produced a moment of silence.

One way or another, Melvin is gone.

Angelos dislikes him. Hemond won't let him near the managers' interviews. Melvin helped rebuild this organization, and now he's persona non grata.

This isn't good news for the Orioles, even though the loss of Melvin or Robinson was inevitable. It is good news to Johnson, who believes the fewer bosses, the better.

The crowded front office was surprisingly effective, but it worked best under Eli Jacobs, who left the decision-making to former club president Larry Lucchino, with help from Hemond, Melvin and Robinson.

Angelos acts as his own club president, his own GM and sometimes his own manager. He was Johnny Oates' worst nightmare, but Johnson managed in the New York circus, and then Marge Schott's.

He's not scared by individuals.

He's scared by numbers.

His first four seasons with the Mets, he worked solely with Frank Cashen. Then Cashen started phasing in two GMs-in-waiting, Al Harazin and Joe McIlvaine.

That upset the balance.

"They would change off on me," Johnson said. "It was a little more difficult to know what everyone was thinking, to be on the same wavelength. Committees are just slower."

Johnson grew defiant and confrontational, and in the end it didn't matter that he averaged 96 wins in his six full seasons with the Mets.

He was fired.

And it took him nearly three years to get another managing job.

Some believe the Mets blacklisted him -- perhaps because of his attitude toward the front office, perhaps because of a free-wheeling lifestyle he later reformed.

Whatever, Johnson finally landed in Cincinnati, where Schott is no picnic, and where GM Jim Bowden is so brash, he's derided by his peers as "Little Abner" -- short for Doubleday.

AJohnson occasionally faces criticism for thinking he invented the game, so it seemed inevitable he would clash with his cocky 33-year-old general manager.

Guess what?

It didn't happen.

"He's very vocal, very opinionated," Johnson said. "But I knew what he was thinking from Day 1."

It would be the same with Robinson, whom Johnson respects from their days as Orioles teammates.

Angelos surely would want his say, but he and Johnson could just tell each other how smart they are, and everything would be fine.

Privately, some Orioles officials fear Johnson would grow too comfortable, the way he did in New York. He is not the stern disciplinarian Angelos desires -- Cashen said the Mets "lacked fire in the belly" at the end of Johnson's tenure.

These are legitimate concerns. But the Mets are on their fourth manager since firing Johnson on May 29, 1990 -- while Johnson now holds the highest winning percentage (.574) among active managers of at least 500 games.

We're talking about a survivor. Managing in New York, Johnson said, "can kill you." It contributed to the breakup of his first marriage. It also led him to drink too much.

"As soon as I got out of there, I didn't have to go into any center," Johnson said. "I just stopped."

Today, he is remarried, and drinks only wine.

He got his act together.

He could be a perfect fit, if the Orioles get their act together, too.

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