Daring move by Johnson calls bluff

October 28, 1997|By Ken Rosenthal

Davey Johnson is daring Peter Angelos to get rid of him?

Good for Johnson.

Someone had to stand up to this bully of an owner, look him square in the eye, call his bluff.

And of all the men who have worked for the Orioles during Angelos' reign of terror, only Johnson had the guts.

It could all backfire on the manager, who might end up returning for the final year of his contract if Angelos won't give him an extension.

Indeed, the only way for Johnson to save face now is by quitting, and that's exactly what Angelos wants.

Clearly, he has little regard for a manager who led the Orioles to their first back-to-back postseason appearances since 1973-1974.

If Johnson returns, the Orioles again will be the most dysfunctional family in baseball. And if he doesn't, it will be one nasty divorce.

At least Johnson is going down swinging.

They're all cheering now, from Johnny Oates to Phil Regan, John Lowenstein to Jon Miller, Doug Melvin to Frank Robinson to Roland Hemond.

No way Angelos comes out of this looking good, no matter how furiously he tries to paint Johnson as a manipulative, Machiavellian monster.

Which the manager might be, bless his scheming heart.

Frankly, Johnson should have done this a year ago, the first time he was the subject of Angelos' annual October witch hunt.

But he had this romantic notion about restoring the Orioles to their past glory, and desperately wanted another chance to reach the World Series.

So much for romance.

Johnson is now communicating with Angelos through coldblooded '90s technology -- the fax.

His request to Angelos is the managerial equivalent of a "play me or trade me" demand.

Extend my contract or buy out my final year.

Angelos asked for trouble. And now he has it.

If he extends Johnson, he's stuck with a manager he doesn't want. But if he buys him out, he's effectively firing the Orioles' best manager since Earl Weaver.

What's a poor owner to do?

Play his own form of hardball.

"There's nothing to negotiate," Angelos told The Sun's Joe Strauss last night. "He's under contract."

That should make Johnson feel warm all over.

He deserves an extension after leading the Orioles to their first division title since 1983 and advancing to the American League Championship Series for the second straight season.

But Angelos apparently believes he is guilty of a multitude of sins -- failing to report a fine to Roberto Alomar, failing to bunt during the ALCS, failing to go 162-0.

Angelos doesn't want to keep Johnson.

He wants Johnson to quit, so he can turn this into Jon Miller II.

That way, Angelos could avoid paying Johnson's $750,000 salary for next season. And he could avoid playing the heavy, because as everyone in Baltimore knows, Peter Angelos is a hero.

A hero who has alienated some of the most popular figures in Orioles' history.

A hero who loves to pick fights.

A hero who is again misplaying his hand.

Angelos said there was "no threat" to Johnson's job, "no basis for him to think he will be fired." But Johnson knows he'll be in trouble if he returns as a lame duck next season.

At best, he'll last the year, then be forced out.

At worst, he'll be dismissed at the first hint of a slump.

Johnson has a knack for getting himself fired, but he also owns the highest winning percentage among active major-league managers. This time, he should just quit and become a martyr.

He could go to Toronto and beat the Orioles for the AL East title next season. Or he could go to the Chicago White Sox and work for another wonderful owner, Jerry Reinsdorf.

Johnson's teams have finished first or second all 10 years in which he has managed an entire season, but of course that's not good enough for Angelos.

Nothing is good enough for Angelos, in case you haven't noticed.

If he loses Johnson, he'll be working on his fourth manager in five years -- a breakneck pace that would leave even George Steinbrenner breathless.

But it'll all be Johnson's fault.

Just like it was all Miller's fault, remember?

Angelos would take an even greater public-relations hit this time -- Johnson is more important to the team than any broadcaster -- but the owner would try to bounce back by luring another big-name manager to Baltimore.

Jim Leyland would be the leading candidate if the Florida Marlins were sold. Montreal's Felipe Alou would be another possibility. So would Milwaukee's Phil Garner.

Tom Lasorda?

Sparky Anderson?

Come on down!

Seriously, why would any self-respecting manager want this job? Why would any of them think that Angelos would treat them better than he treated Johnson?

Oates got fired. Regan got fired. And now Johnson might be the next to go.

He'll leave with his dignity, at least.

He stood up to the bully.

He took on Peter Angelos.

Pub Date: 10/28/97

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