He has reason to believe again Davey Johnson: Even amid unfounded rumors of drinking and womanizing after his firing by the Mets, the Orioles' new manager had faith things would turn out all right.

February 16, 1996|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Davey Johnson rarely mentioned baseball with Susan Allen after they started dating in 1991, so he surprised her by bringing up the subject the following April. Opening Day, to be exact.

Johnson had been fired as manager of the New York Mets in 1990, and found it impossible to get a job in baseball. Any job, as a scout, a minor-league instructor, anything. On that Opening Day of 1992, Johnson told Susan how much it hurt to be out of baseball.

"I probably will never go back to baseball," he said. "It's over for me."

He didn't seem depressed to her. Johnson just sounded matter-of-fact. The way Johnson figured, everything happens for reason.

Not the reasons churning through the rumor mill, the supposed drinking and womanizing -- Johnson thought all that was a farce, generated by somebody in the Mets organization trying to make an excuse for dumping a manager who averaged 96 wins over six seasons.

But there had to be a reason. Johnson never claimed to be the perfect Christian, but he believed and thought that perhaps God had something better in store for him. He felt his whole life had been steered in this way; Johnson reminded himself that on those days when he felt frustrated.

So he played golf and fished and lost the extra weight he'd put on and grew closer to Susan, and waited to find out where his life would lead.

He never imagined it would take him back to Baltimore, his baseball home. Johnson will oversee his first Orioles workout today as the team's new manager.

Signs of trouble

His departure from the Mets makes sense to him now, and even beforehand, he recognized that his firing was imminent. After a disappointing 1989 season, Mets president Frank Cashen ordered him to dump two of his coaches, Sam Perlozzo and Bill Robinson, and Johnson could see signs his bosses were preparing to hire Bud Harrelson in his place.

Johnson realized, as well, that his relations with the Mets' front office were strained to the breaking point. The influence of Joe McIlvaine and Al Harazin, two future general managers working under Cashen, had increased, and Johnson began to feel as if he were answering to three bosses instead of one.

But after he had been let go, devastating rumors about him began circulating. This Johnson couldn't comprehend.

"Think about it," he said. "You go from last place [in 1983] to first place and World Series champions [in 1986], and another division title [in '88]. You're packing the stands [at Shea Stadium], your television ratings are up, and you're making lots of money. And you fire the manager. You've got to justify firing the manager, and how are you going to do that?"

One way, Johnson thinks, is floating the stories that he drank heavily and chased women. That was the word around baseball at the time. He doesn't know exactly who said what, but he is adamant in this: While serving as Mets manager, nobody ever suggested to him there was a problem with his behavior.

"There wasn't one incident with me and alcohol the whole time I was with the Mets," Johnson said. "Not one. Nobody said a word to me about it. I'd have two or three drinks after games, and maybe that was too many. But nobody said anything to me.

"And it's been said I was a womanizer. Well, I was separated [and on his way to a divorce] and I was seeing one woman, and it was a good person with a good job and I was up front about this."

Johnson has asked himself "a hundred times" what he could've done differently with the Mets.

"I worked for the Mets almost 10 years, and they were 10 great years. Did they take their toll? Any time you're under that much stress . . . We each have different ways of handling that stress. I thought I handled it pretty good. When I came out of there I felt like I needed a year off. Six-plus years in the New York market. Jeez, how many people do that?"

A year off, sure. But two years later and Johnson couldn't get a job. Not a sniff. He made $1,000 as a spring training scout for Minnesota in 1992. He had a chance for a front-office job in Houston, but lost that opportunity when Drayton McLane bought the team. Shut out, and he's convinced it was because of the rumors.

"I have no ill feelings toward anyone," he said, "and I don't feel a need to defend myself. But I do know any little innuendo about anybody, if more than one person says it, it's a good reason for a guy not getting a job. That's how tight-knit the owners and general managers are."

Awaiting good fortune

There had to be a reason, Johnson told himself. Like when he signed with the Orioles in 1962. He accepted a much smaller signing bonus than he could've gotten, but felt that signing with the Orioles was the right thing to do. Within four years, he was playing in the World Series and making up the difference. He'd gone to the National League in 1973 and re-established himself as a player, a good break, and gone to Japan and played with Sadaharu Oh and learned much about the game. More good fortune. He felt blessed.

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