Johnson: Extension or buyout Manager tells Orioles he doesn't want to return 'under a cloud'

Angelos: Contract stands

Agent says skipper prefers to remain

October 28, 1997|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

Orioles manager Davey Johnson has asked the club to extend his contract beyond the 1998 season or to negotiate a settlement that would allow him to leave the club without serving the final year of his three-year, $2.25 million deal.

Johnson's agent, Skip Dalton, confirmed sending his client's request to club counsel Russell Smouse last Thursday after learning that general manager Pat Gillick had speculated Johnson had only a 50-50 chance of returning next season. Through a fax, Dalton requested the Orioles buy Johnson out of his contract rather than manage next season "under a cloud."

Dalton described Gillick's statement as "unsettling." Even last weekend's statement from Orioles majority owner Peter Angelos that Johnson would be allowed to fulfill the balance of his contract has not stemmed the controversy.

Added Dalton: "After two trips to the playoffs and a wire-to-wire ,, division championship and being named Manager of the Year by your colleagues, you'd think we'd be in there talking about a contract extension. And both Davey and I hoped we would."

Though the fax was not specifically addressed to Angelos, he clearly was its target. The fax read in part: "Davey hopes to return, so let's talk about this now as opposed to later and having a cloud follow them."

Angelos, who has shared an icy relationship with Johnson for most of the manager's two-year tenure, acknowledged reading the letter but was unmoved by its request.

"There's nothing to negotiate," Angelos said. "He's under contract."

Angelos made much the same point last Friday when he told The Sun that Johnson would be allowed to return for the final year of his contract.

"There is no threat he's going to lose his job," Angelos said.

"That doesn't strike me as a ringing endorsement of the kind he's entitled to," Dalton said.

If Angelos' comments last weekend were supposed to cap a festering issue, Johnson's fax only added another exchange to a baroque feud that apparently will leave the two men tethered for the 1998 season.

According to an associate, Johnson has considered resigning in the past week. Dalton denied that.

However, Dalton confirmed that Johnson believes steering the Orioles to their first AL East championship since 1983 and only the third wire-to-wire title in league history deserves something more than indifference from ownership. Johnson prefers to be told his long-term standing now, according to Dalton.

While Johnson declines to take reporters' calls, Dalton says the manager's preference would be to receive an extension beyond 1998. "Davey broke into baseball in Baltimore. He likes the city. He likes the team. He built a good relationship with the team," Dalton said.

Failing an extension, Johnson would prefer to negotiate a buyout that would allow him to explore other managerial vacancies.

"One of the reasons we'd like to get things squared away is if he nTC needs to look somewhere else, he'd like to be free to do that. Right now, we're not free to do that," Dalton said.

Dalton said the least palatable option would be for Johnson to report to spring training with no guarantees beyond the season.

"If he's done something [Angelos] doesn't approve of, then we'd like to know what it is," Dalton said. "If ownership there wants to make a change, I'm sure they could come out and say it. That's certainly not Davey's wish. But if it is the owner's wish, we wish they'd say it. If they said they want to get out of the contract, we'd try to do something mutually agreeable. That would let us talk to other clubs."

The Toronto Blue Jays are believed to be waiting to see if #F Johnson becomes available before filling their vacancy. The Chicago White Sox and expansion Tampa Bay Devil Rays also are without managers.

Dalton said Johnson has been unable to reach Angelos on the phone. He denied a meeting has been scheduled between the two for later this week.

An organizational source said Angelos was enraged by the fax but has no intention of paying Johnson not to manage his team. Johnson has $750,000 remaining on his contract. Likewise, Dalton insisted Johnson will not resign without a settlement.

Regardless, the latest twist underscores the tension of a situation that has frustrated front office members and coaches alike. With contracts set to expire Friday, Johnson's staff has yet to be notified of its status. Hitting coach Rick Down will interview today with the Devil Rays, who contacted him yesterday about their managerial opening. Down interviewed last Friday with Toronto.

Gillick refers to several "issues" that Angelos and Johnson need to resolve. But in the current climate, such a resolution seems remote. Johnson remains in Florida while Angelos is said to have no intention of phoning his manager.

Gillick has spoken with Angelos about the situation. When asked earlier this week if Johnson's ouster might mean he, too, may leave, Gillick insisted he would honor the final year of his three-year contract next season.

Pub Date: 10/28/97

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