Bonilla: Johnson 'hot-air balloon' Ill feelings apparent, he rips ex-manager

March 01, 1997|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Bobby Bonilla hugged Cal Ripken, slapped hitting coach Rick Down on the back, yelled greetings to Rafael Palmeiro.

And he torched Davey Johnson before the Orioles' exhibition against the Florida Marlins yesterday. "He's a big hot-air balloon," Bonilla said, the highlight/lowlight of his general diatribe aimed at his former manager.

Bonilla, the former Orioles slugger who signed a four-year deal with Florida in the off-season, saw Johnson across the field and offered an exaggerated salute. Then, after reporters gathered around, Bonilla ridiculed Johnson.

Bonilla and Johnson had a poor relationship last season, when Johnson wanted Bonilla to be the designated hitter. Bonilla eventually moved to the outfield, after it became apparent that Bonilla's aversion to the DH was affecting his hitting. But the relationship was never repaired; Bonilla's temper and general distaste for Johnson simmered for months, and Johnson occasionally took small jabs at Bonilla for not adjusting to the designated hitter role.

The Orioles chose not to re-sign Bonilla, who seemed ready to forgive and forget. He repeatedly declined to grant interviews during the off-season, saying through his agent that he would not again discuss his bad relationship with Johnson. In an extended interview Feb. 16, Bonilla downplayed the ill will. "I'll remember nothing but good things about the Orioles," Bonilla said then.

But on Feb. 22, Johnson, speaking at a breakfast in Fort Lauderdale, jokingly said Marlins left fielder Moises Alou would be busy chasing balls that got past Bonilla at third base.

Bonilla didn't particularly like this. Joke or no joke.

"I don't give a damn what Davey says," Bonilla said. "He's in his own fantasy world. I hope he enjoys it.

"If you look up the stats, I played one game at third base for Baltimore [under Johnson]. So, I don't know what he's talking about. He's entitled to his opinion -- he's got a lot of them.

"He's managed in New York. He's a big hot-air balloon, so I don't even pay him no mind."

Bonilla actually played four games at third for Johnson, but that wouldn't alter his feelings. "I wouldn't even have him manage my Rotisserie team," Bonilla said, "if I owned a team. I saluted him today. I went over and said, 'Hello.' "

Johnson, Bonilla said, did not respond. "I don't think he wants to say anything," Bonilla said.

Bonilla will forever remember that he hit .221 with two homers in 44 games as designated hitter, and .318 with 26 homers in 115 games while playing in the field. "He made the decisions to do exactly what he did," Bonilla said. "I say he had a lot to do with what happened. That's his choice, he's the manager, I can't really do anything about that.

"I figure after about .190 and 2 1/2 months, it was time for me to do something else."

As Bonilla walked away from reporters, he added a footnote. "Write it nice," he said, "because I didn't start none of that mess."

The perpetual smile worn by Johnson in this seamless Orioles spring training evaporated when he was told of what Bonilla said. "The only thing I'll say is, he had a good year with us," Johnson said. "If I was him, I'd worry about getting in shape and doing the job for the Marlins. I wouldn't worry about what happened last year, when we almost made [the World Series].

"He should not be so sensitive. I wish him well. He doesn't need to worry about what's in the past -- it's in the past. Just go on. As far as his derogatory comments are concerned, I don't have any comment on them. He's entitled to his opinion."

Bonilla had another -- he was surprised that the Orioles moved Ripken to shortstop. "Yeah, I would've liked to have seen him at shortstop," Bonilla said. "He really loves that position, you can see it in his eyes. He really loves to play shortstop."

Bonilla, very well-liked by his teammates when he played for the Orioles, bounced onto the field to chat with Palmeiro, Ripken and Manny Alexander. Down teased him about the earring dangling from his left lobe; the Orioles have forbidden their players from wearing earrings.

"Oh, come on," Bonilla said, smiling. "It looks good, and I got enough of that [flak] last year."

Bonilla talked to Ripken privately for about five minutes, and then, during the game, an inning ended with Bonilla standing next to Ripken in foul territory. Bonilla said something to Ripken, who grinned and playfully jabbed at Bonilla's chest. Bonilla didn't retaliate, and Ripken escaped the field unscathed.

Davey Johnson should be so lucky.

Orioles today

Exhibition opponent: Florida Marlins

Site: Viera, Fla.

Time: 1:05 p.m.

Radio: WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Orioles' Rocky Coppinger vs. Marlins' Kevin Brown

Pub Date: 3/01/97

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