Johnson at ease at O's inspection

October 06, 1994|By Tom Keegan | Tom Keegan,Sun Staff Writer

Davey Johnson, seated at a table yesterday, surrounded by reporters and looking very much at ease and in control, mentioned he planned to play golf today with Jim Palmer.

Is Johnson a scratch golfer, someone wondered.

"Are we bettin' or braggin'?" Johnson answered. "It's a new city. I'm a 6."

Sure he is.

When Johnson mentioned Palmer, it was hard not to think back to the Hall of Fame pitcher's comments the night of Johnny Oates' firing.

"Peter Angelos frightened Johnny Oates to death," Palmer said. "As good a guy as Johnny is, I am not sure he felt comfortable making moves."

Johnson, who survived six-plus seasons managing in New York and one-plus working for eccentric Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott, always has been very comfortable making moves and he didn't leave the impression that he would be frightened by anything in baseball.

Asked about working for Angelos, a hands-on owner, Johnson didn't blink. "I'm really not concerned with that," Johnson said. "I'm confident in my own abilities."

After being interviewed by the Orioles' panel of four -- general manager Roland Hemond, assistant GM Frank Robinson, vice chairman Joe Foss and attorney Russell Smouse -- Johnson exuded an abundance of self-confidence, the same quality that made his World Series-champion 1986 Mets both so loved and hated.

"Baltimore," he said. "I've got a lot of fond memories here. I've got a lot of cuts on my body from playing. The new stadium. The roots I have here. A couple of my children were born here. And it would be exciting to back in an Orioles uniform."

In his six full seasons in charge of the Mets, Johnson led them to two National League East titles and four second-place finishes. Five times, his Mets won at least 90 games.

At times in New York, Johnson grew frustrated with the GM by committee of Frank Cashen, Al Harazin, and Joe McIlvaine.

"I had some questions I needed answered, too," Johnson said of yesterday's interview. "I've been reading speculation that Frank was going to be GM. It's kind of important from a field level standpoint to know what your situation is."

His concerns revolved around the current makeup of the Orioles' front office, with Hemond flanked by assistants Robinson and Doug Melvin. Expected to undergo a second interview for the Texas Rangers' GM job later this week, Melvin has not been included in the manager search.

"I was concerned it was a similar situation here," Johnson said. "We had three good baseball men in Frank, Al and Joe. But it was very difficult because it would change on me. It was a little difficult for everyone to know what everyone is thinking. Committees are just slower. I was concerned that maybe it was a committee here, but I don't think it is. I haven't seen the realignment yet, so I don't know for sure."

Johnson is of the belief that a system with one man pulling the trigger in the front office, as is the case with Cincinnati's Jim Bowden, is more effective than a committee.

(Remember, Angelos wanted the Orioles to sign Ron Gant and the Reds beat them to him.)

Johnson said nothing he heard during yesterday's interview dulled his enthusiasm for the job.

"If I didn't think a situation would work out, I wouldn't put myself in it," he said. "I'm satisfied to this point."

Hemond said the Reds' insistence on receiving a player as compensation for Johnson wouldn't be a factor.

Out of baseball for 2 1/2 seasons after being fired by the Mets, Johnson said he would have signed a contract extension with the Reds had he been approached earlier, but Schott's stalling made him available.

"Whatever I did in New York that let me rest for three years, the baseball gods have forgiven me," he said. "I had a good relationship with the Reds and a good relationship with the GM. The only reason I'm here is this is more attractive to me."

Johnson's six consecutive seasons marked the longest reign by the manager of a New York team since Ralph Houk managed the Yankees from 1967 through 1973.

"I was there six-plus years and that's an eternity in New York," Johnson said. "We established we were the team to beat. We made no bones about it and we backed it up every year. I don't agree with them firing me, but in retrospect it probably added years to my life."

Johnson was the eighth man interviewed by the Orioles. Former Mets, Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox manager Jeff Torborg, in town tomorrow, will be No. 9.

Hemond said the Orioles have not held meetings yet to determine which candidates will be brought back for a second interview, probably some time next week. Hemond said it was possible the Orioles could name a manager by the end of next week, but more likely the following week.

Johnson said he had no problem with the Orioles' timetable.

"They said it would probably be two weeks, which is fine," Johnson said. "I'm going fishing."

Indians pitching coach Phil Regan, one of the likely finalists, leaves tomorrow for Venezuela to begin his managing assignment in Caracas.

"I very much would like to come back for that second interview," Regan said. "I would very much like to get the job. The Orioles can win it right away and I think that's why there has been so much interest."

SECOND TO ONE

The best career winning percentage among active managers:

Manager .. .. .. .. .. W .. .. L .. .. Pct.

Felipe Alou, Mont. ... 238 ... 163 ... .594

Davey Johnson, Cin. .. 714 ... 530 ... .574

Dusty Baker, S.F. . .. 158 ... 119 ... .570

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