Angelos has upper hand on dotted line

October 29, 1997|By John Eisenberg

Davey Johnson is trying to back Peter Angelos into a corner by asking for an extension or a buyout of his contract to manage the Orioles, but there's one small problem with his demands.

Two problems, actually.

One is yesterday's news that Johnson had demanded in July that second baseman Roberto Alomar donate fine money to a charity managed by Johnson's wife, Susan.

That was a huge mistake by Johnson; not only was he blatantly using his position to coerce a contribution from Alomar, but he also had no right to dictate the use of fine money, which belongs to the club.

Angelos' longstanding displeasure with Johnson makes a little more sense now.

Johnson's error doesn't lessen his superior managerial abilities, but it was the kind of mistake that a boss can use as grounds for dismissal.

And if that isn't enough to lessen the strength of Johnson's demands, let's not forget that Johnson still is contractually obligated to Angelos for another year.

Johnson can take all the stands and make all the threats he wants, but Angelos doesn't have to respond.

A contract is a contract, and Johnson signed one calling for him to manage the Orioles in 1998.

Angelos doesn't have to do a thing.

He doesn't have to give Johnson an extension, a buyout, a piece of Halloween candy, anything.

A deal is a deal, and they already have one.

If Johnson wants out, and if Angelos won't give him what he wants, Johnson's only option is to quit.

That would mean walking out on a $750,000 salary and getting the loss in the hostile matter of Johnson v. Angelos, which, rest assured, he doesn't want.

And that would mean he quit on the Orioles -- a mark he surely doesn't want on his permanent record.

Where does that leave us? With Angelos having the upper hand, no question about it.

The news about Alomar's fine money will ease some of the pressure on Angelos, whose disdain for Johnson made no sense on baseball grounds.

Of course, Angelos isn't particularly happy about having the upper hand because he would rather have Jim Leyland, Felipe Alou or just about anyone other than Johnson managing the club in '98.

That's the hilarious irony of the situation: Angelos can force Johnson to manage the Orioles next year, but he would rather not.

Even with the news about the charity money, it hardly makes sense to fire a manager just recently named AL Manager of the Year.

What Angelos really wants is for Johnson to quit.

What Johnson really wants is the respect, credit and raise he feels is warranted by his performance in managing the Orioles to the American League Championship Series in each of his first two years on the job.

Ain't gonna happen.

Angelos wants to jettison the winningest active manager in the majors.

As stated here before, the Orioles will suffer if and when he gets his way.

Johnson may have made a mistake, but he is a proven winner, one of the few managers almost guaranteed to deliver a playoff contender.

Angelos thinks he can lure another big name as a replacement, but it's debatable whether any top manager would want to come here and work under such conditions.

Johnson's peers voted him AL Manager of the Year, but Angelos never gave him any outward support or encouragement.

All he gave was a grudging admission after the Seattle playoff series that Johnson would be back, a stance from which Angelos quickly retreated after the Indians upset the Orioles in the ALCS.

It's as plain as the pile of leaves on your front lawn that the owner just doesn't care for the manager.

That's why you can't blame Johnson for taking the bold step of asking for an extension or a buyout.

He knows that a) Angelos doesn't like him, b) he's probably going to last one more year, max, and c) he'll probably get fired next year anyway if everything doesn't go right -- so why not try to force Angelos' hand now?

But that brings us back to our original point: Johnson can't force Angelos' hand, as much as he would like to, because he is under contract for 1998.

If you're having trouble figuring it all out, here are the possible endings:

Johnson gets the extension he wants. (Fat chance.)

Johnson gets the buyout he wants. (Could happen if Angelos tires of the public squabble and decides he's better off getting rid of the "problem.")

Angelos gives in to neither of Johnson's demands, but Johnson swallows his pride and decides to fulfill the terms of his contract and manage the Orioles in '98. (Could happen, although it is difficult to imagine Johnson swallowing his pride.)

Johnson walks away without getting a buyout. (Could happen if Johnson decides he has had enough, and sees another job he wants.)

Johnson gets fired. (Could happen after yesterday's charity story.)

The best ending, for the sake of the Orioles, would be for Johnson and Angelos to get together, lock the door, air out their differences and come to a truce that allows Johnson to manage one more season.

Johnson is the right man to manage the veteran team returning for a final crack at making the World Series in '98.

But the chances of a truce were small to begin with, and they're real small now that Johnson has issued demands.

Angelos doesn't like it when another big dog barks back.

Johnson's demands were quite a bark, that's for sure.

But with his name on a contract to manage the Orioles in '98, Johnson's bark has limited bite.

Pub Date: 10/29/97

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