O's put Johnson into dugout Ex-infielder named manager, promises 'to win next year'

October 31, 1995|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

Davey Johnson, introduced as manager of the Orioles yesterday, neither hemmed nor hawed when asked when the team will win.

"We're going to win next year," said Johnson, 52. "And we're going to win a world championship while I'm here. This ballclub coming out of spring training should be the odds-on favorite to win our division."

Orioles owner Peter Angelos said: "This is a move in the direction of producing a winner. We are committed to building a winner in Baltimore, and Davey is a vital part of that effort. He has a winning attitude."

Johnson agreed to a three-year contract that club sources say will pay him substantially more per season than the $350,000 he earned with the Cincinnati Reds this year.

Johnson knows something about winning. He broke into the majors with the Orioles and played second base for them from 1965 to 1972, winning two World Series. It was Frank Robinson who gave Johnson the facetious nickname that followed him during his playing days -- "Dum Dum" -- because of his intelligence.

Johnson took over as manager of the New York Mets in 1984 and led them to a World Series title in 1986. Fired by the Mets in 1990, he resurfaced in 1993 with Cincinnati. The Reds won the National League Central title this year, before being eliminated by the Atlanta Braves in the league championship series.

Johnson has the highest winning percentage of any active manager -- .576, with 799 victories and 589 losses. But Reds owner Marge Schott never hid her dislike for Johnson, and made it clear he would not be invited back for the 1996 season. The Reds named coach Ray Knight to replace Johnson yesterday.

"I doubt if Marge will take my phone calls," said Johnson.

And if she did? "I'd say thanks for letting me go and not trying to keep me next year."

Nearly hired in '94

This is the job, Johnson said, that he always wanted. It appeared the Orioles were going to hire him in fall 1994 to replace Johnny Oates. But while he was eating lobster with friends one night last October, former Orioles general manager Roland Hemond called to tell him that Phil Regan was being hired.

"I thought there were a lot of stupid people out there," Johnson said of his feelings at the time.

"I thought I was a good fit. I had gone out and managed for nine years, and I thought my record spoke for itself. And who would want it more than me?"

The Orioles went 71-73 under Regan, who was told by Angelos two days after the season ended that candidates would be interviewed as possible replacements. Johnson interviewed with Angelos Oct. 17. Two days later, Regan was fired.

"He's a very down-to-earth, forthright baseball professional," Angelos said of Johnson yesterday, "with an extensive knowledge, and his record clearly establishes that."

No GM yet

The Orioles are still in the process of hiring a general manager to replace Hemond, who resigned Oct. 20. Johnson knows Joe Klein and Kevin Malone, two of the GM candidates, but said it will not really matter to him who the next general manager is. "I'll work well whoever Peter Angelos chooses," Johnson said.

He apparently will work closely with Angelos, too. Johnson said he would be comfortable keeping in touch with Angelos, discussing the club's personnel, talking about what the team needs. "I wouldn't want to go over the head of the general manager," Johnson said, "but I would hope that we would all want to be on the same page and maybe I could reinforce that [by talking to Angelos]. We want to be abundantly clear on the direction we're headed."

A player's manager

Johnson is known as a player's manager, setting down few rules -- show up on time, play hard -- and then letting them play. "I've played for a few managers," said Reds pitcher Pete Schourek, "and he's the best I've played for, as far as the way he runs the clubhouse.

"He gives you a lot of leeway in that he just expects you to be professional and do the job you're supposed to do. The whole atmosphere really helped a lot. We had the utmost respect for him. I think Baltimore's really lucky to have him."

Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro said: "I've never played for a team that's fed off the confidence of the manager. Maybe I'll experience that with Davey; maybe he has that in him."

Disciple of Weaver

Earl Weaver, who managed Johnson for five years with the Orioles, said there are some similarities in the way he and his former second baseman operate in the dugout.

"I think he uses numbers, maybe the same way I did, as far as knowing what his No. 3 hitter is going to do against a particular pitcher," Weaver said. "He might take him out if he's 0-for-20 [against the pitcher] or something like that."

Whether Johnson wins in Baltimore like Weaver did remains to be seen. But in his first day as Orioles manager, Johnson made it clear he feels good about his chances.

Johnson profile

Born: Jan. 30, 1943, in Orlando, Fla.

Playing caree: 14 years as infielder, mostly at second base. Had .261 average, 136 home runs, 609 RBIs.

Managerial record: 799-589 in seasons with New York Mets (1984-90), including 1986 World Series title, and Cincinnati Reds (1993-95).

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