Peers name Johnson top manager Sporting News award is first for O's skipper despite .575 win rate

'It means a lot to me'

Leyland, Bell trail in vote by managers

October 21, 1997|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

As of today, Davey Johnson's managerial career no longer will be one of distinction without formal recognition.

Based on its poll of managers, The Sporting News will name Johnson its Major League Manager of the Year, marking the first time the game's highest-percentage skipper will be so honored. Voting won't be released until today, but the results were heavily in Johnson's favor, according to a company official.

Johnson steered the Orioles to their first AL East title since 1983 and did so in wire-to-wire fashion, only the third American League team to do so. The effort was clouded by last week's elimination from the American League Championship Series, the first time a wire-to-wire winner has failed to reach the World Series.

Johnson out-polled Detroit Tigers manager Buddy Bell, the Florida Marlins' Jim Leyland, and the Indians' Mike Hargrove among others. It is an honor Johnson insists he has never craved but many have felt is long overdue.

"Largely due to a great coaching staff, great ownership and all the hard work of the players, I won this award. It means a lot to me, especially because it was voted on by the other managers," Johnson said. "We had a great year in Baltimore, winning 98 games and going wire-to-wire, but we fell short of our goal: going to the World Series."

Despite his teams capturing six division titles, two 100-win seasons and a world championship, Johnson has never been selected Manager of the Year by The Sporting News or the Baseball Writers' Association of America, whose vote of selected scribes covering the American League will be announced next month.

Indeed, it's no coincidence Johnson's teams in New York, Cincinnati and Baltimore have unfailingly been well-financed and been greeted by high expectations. His .575 winning percentage is tops among active managers; Atlanta's Bobby Cox ranks second at .546. While with the New York Mets, Johnson became the only National League manager to win 90 games in five consecutive seasons.

This marks the sixth time an Orioles manager has been so honored. The last time came in 1992, when Johnny Oates took the Orioles to an 89-73 finish.

This year, the Orioles reached 90 wins for the first time since 1983. Like that team, the '97 Orioles crafted a 98-64 record after bolting to a 45-19 start that left them nine games atop the American League East on June 15.

From then on, Johnson and his coaching staff confronted a nettlesome series of injuries and illness that hindered right fielder Eric Davis, catcher Chris Hoiles, second baseman Roberto Alomar and outfielders Jeffrey Hammonds and Brady Anderson. Third baseman Cal Ripken played much of the summer with a bulging disk in his lower back. A well-maintained pitching staff, the product of Johnson's relationship with first-year pitching coach Ray Miller, allowed the club to survive with its lead never falling below three games until the season's final week.

"I've never been around a manager who went so far out of his way to take into consideration the psyche of every player, and I've been around some great ones," said Miller, who also has worked with Earl Weaver and Leyland. "When a team wins like this one did, people immediately assume it's easy. They're wrong. None of this is by accident."

Owner Peter Angelos has yet to confirm an earlier commitment that Johnson would return for the final season of a three-year contract in 1998. Because of his apparently tenuous standing, Johnson has declined to address his situation publicly.

Standout skippers

The top winning percentages among active managers (minimum 500 games):

Manager ...... Record Pct.

Davey Johnson 985-727 .575

Bobby Cox 1,312-1,089 .546

Mike Hargrove 535-453 .541

Felipe Alou 470-399 .541

Buck Showalter* 313-268 .539

* now with expansion Arizona

Pub Date: 10/21/97

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