. . . but it's possible Davey has a flaw or two

October 10, 1994|By PHIL JACKMAN

Everywhere you have looked, listened or read in the last couple of weeks there was the name: Davey Johnson.

Oh yeah, the old second sacker for Dem Boids who used to hit .280, win Gold Gloves and spend lots of time with a computer, slide rule and the logarithm tables developing strange and wondrous theories.

Until, of course, the self-designated genius manager Earl Weaver didn't know what to do with him when Bobby Grich showed up. As a part-timer, Davey batted .221 and grumbled when on the bench until he was packaged off to Atlanta with three other Orioles in easily the worst trade ever made by the club (including the Frank Robinson laugher).

Dave got his name in the record books, heisting one of the records held by Rogers Hornsby, who some say is the greatest right-handed hitter of all time, and, believe it or not, was batting 1.000 when released by the Braves in 1975. How much more could a guy give?

He got back to the big leagues with the Phillies and Cubs after a couple of seasons playing in Japan. "They work much too hard over there," he once said to his discredit.

He made his managing debut in 1979, working in a quickly thrown together league called the Inter-American, which abruptly folded after 72 games when Johnson's Miami team was in Central America somewhere and not sure how it was going to get home.

In other words, in a phrase or two, David Allen Johnson has been around, and he's seen most of what there is to see.

He's obviously a good interview, too, because no sooner did he show up to talk about making out the lineup card and trying to get something out of an enigmatic pitching staff when everyone who has access to a word processor, a microphone or camera started hailing him as the second coming of Joe McCarthy, John McGraw, Frank Chance and Connie Mack.

"Johnson at ease at O's inspection," said a headline. And why not? From the moment he landed at BWI, it has been as though Davey led his legions to glorious victories in the far-flung reaches of the empire and now he was returning to a triumphant entry through the streets of Rome to the palace of Caesar.

If Peter Angelos never could get accustomed to ex-manager Johnny Oates' quiet, laid-back style of leadership, Johnson immediately established he was just the opposite kind of guy, telling one writer, "I'm the best manager out there. The Reds were kind of crazy for letting me talk to the Orioles."

By the way, after being rescued from the scrapheap by Cincinnati when he took over for the monstrously-popular Tony Perez just 44 games into the 1993 season, how come Davey seems so hell-bent on getting out of the Queen City of the Ohio River?

Is there some loyalty missing here, especially after being on the sidelines for three years and becoming sufficiently frustrated so as to blurt out he was so desperate for a job he would "even consider managing the Cleveland Indians."

Yes, sometimes Dave would commence speaking well in advance of his brain becoming engaged in the forward position, for which he earned the nickname "Dum-Dum." He often explained that he was given the name by teammates who were fiendishly jealous of the math degree from Trinity University in Texas. Right, players always get caught up in such trivia.

Despite the fact several heavy hitters have been brought in to talk about the job, essayists have fallen in behind Johnson solidly after the initial wave of "wouldn't the selection of Rick Dempsey make for an interesting choice?" had run its course.

Look what he did in New York, the Mets averaging 96 wins per year during his 6.25-season tenure (1984-1990). But, alas, he did get fired, due mainly to "typical New York survival techniques coming into play," Johnson explains. The perception was that not only had Davey lost control of his team but of himself, which he denies, naturally.

"We were the best," Dave says of his Mets days, but still the team wasn't that dominant, having to split division titles with the Cardinals and Cubs. He happened along and got the Mets' Triple-A job at Tidewater just when Doc Gooden, Ron Darling, Bob Ojeda, Rick Aguilera, Sid Fernandez, Roger McDowell and David Cone were happening on the scene. At the same time, people named Darryl Strawberry, Lenny Dykstra, Howard Johnson, Mookie Wilson, Gary Carter, Kevin McReynolds and Keith Hernandez were showing up nearly every day to play.

Maybe others had something to do with the success, Davey?

Anyway, before the final round of this search is concluded and we hear of Johnson's exploits on the golf course and as a licensed pilot, let's refrain from giving him the job by acclamation and remember there are others to be considered, including Jeff Torborg, Phil Regan and several other worthies.

Oh, by the way, the self-assured skipper in waiting once crashed a plane. Ah, something had to be defective.

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