Johnson may face firing, but real heat is on Angelos

September 28, 1997|By Ken Rosenthal

Everyone thinks the pressure is on Davey Johnson.

He'll be fired if the Orioles don't win the Division Series. He'll be fired if they don't reach the World Series. He'll be fired if they don't march properly in the victory parade.

Such is life for a manager under owner Peter Angelos, but why should Johnson worry? He has won a World Series. He owns the highest winning percentage among active managers.

The pressure is on Angelos, not Johnson.

By any rational analysis, the owner would be wrong to fire Johnson after what he has achieved in two seasons as manager -- yes, even if the Orioles lose to Seattle.

Just for argument's sake, let's say they get swept. It could easily happen, and not just because of Randy Johnson.

Jamie Moyer, the Mariners' Game 2 starter, is 30-8 since leaving Baltimore, 4-0 against the Orioles.

Jimmy Key, the Orioles' Game 3 starter, has won only one of his past 11 starts at Camden Yards.

And to complete the doomsday scenario, consider that the Orioles' right-handed lineup isn't particularly imposing, and the Mariners are starting lefties in the first three games.

So, there you have it -- three and out.

Would it be Johnson's fault?

Of course not.

But it could lead to a chain of events that would force the Orioles to restructure their entire organization, not just hire their fourth manager in five years.

General manager Pat Gillick could return to Toronto, where he would be an obvious choice for a new ownership trying to restore the Blue Jays to their past glory.

And assistant GM Kevin Malone could become a leading GM candidate for several clubs, most notably Philadelphia.

Gillick has said he will honor the final year of his contract. 'N Malone, too, has every intention of staying. Their futures are not necessarily linked to Johnson's.

Still, the Orioles are an aging team, and this probably is their last shot to win it all. Brady Anderson might be playing his final games in Baltimore. Rafael Palmeiro and Roberto Alomar are eligible for free agency after next season.

Put it all together -- the loss of a top manager, the threat of losing several top players, the restlessness of an owner who isn't satisfied by division titles -- and you've got a less desirable working environment than before.

Gillick and Malone can find other jobs.

So can Johnson.

Any other organization would be talking about extending his contract, but Johnson's relationship with Angelos is so uneasy, no one with the Orioles even dares broach the idea.

The suspicion is that Angelos is simply waiting for an opportunity to pounce. He'll get it if the Orioles are eliminated quickly -- or lose in the ALCS to the hated New York Yankees.

We'll hear that Johnson didn't "complete his mission." We'll hear that it was all the manager's fault, just like it was all Jon Miller's fault last year when Angelos lost the popular broadcaster.

We'll hear a dozen different things -- Johnson was too tough on this player, too easy on that one, too quick to hook this pitcher, to slow to pull that one.

The usual spin.

The usual nonsense.

As an attorney, Angelos should know that his case is frivolous, that his evidence would be rejected by the court of public opinion. The only relevant exhibit is Johnson's won-lost record, and no jury would convict him on that.

Two seasons, two playoff berths. Not bad, considering the Orioles waited 13 years to return to the postseason. Not bad, considering the last time they made back-to-back playoff appearances was 1973-1974.

Their 135-87 record dating to July 27 of last season is the best in the majors. Yet, Johnson's future might be decided in a series that tilts against the Orioles for reasons that are out of his control.

Randy Johnson is the most feared pitcher in baseball. The Mariners feature one of the most dangerous lineups. The Kingdome is one of the loudest and most intimidating parks.

A championship team needs to overcome such obstacles, but if the Orioles escape this best-of-five series, Johnson will deserve his share of credit.

And the ALCS?

Nothing would change unless Johnson is clearly out-managed, and that simply is not going to happen.

Angelos can't fire him.

He also can't find a better replacement, which is even more to the point.

Yes, Johnson is a bit of a handful, an irritant not only to his players but also to his superiors. He's smug and self-centered. He doesn't just think he's the smartest guy in the room, he knows it.


Talented people are like that, each with their own idiosyncrasies and egos. The Orioles are blessed with a bunch of 'em. A cocksure manager. A stubborn third baseman. A moody second baseman.

A passionate, unforgiving owner.

This might come as a shock to Angelos, but for all the good he does as owner -- keeping his hometown at heart, supporting a $55 million payroll -- his employees have to put up with him, too.

Johnson, Malone, Gillick, Angelos -- consider what they've accomplished together. Or, consider what Johnson has accomplished by keeping 25 diverse, temperamental, sporting divas functioning as a unit.

It took time for him to learn the personalities, to accept among other things, The World According to Cal. But Johnson recognizes the value of healthy disagreement, even friction.

You want the best, you take on the entire package.

Peter Angelos has the best, or close to it.

How can he possibly fire Davey Johnson now?

Pub Date: 9/28/97

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