Orioles' Johnson resigns: He quits on day he is named AL Manager of Year End comes in fax exchange

Rift with Angelos leads to departure after two seasons

November 06, 1997|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

The fractious, combustible relationship between Orioles majority owner Peter Angelos and Davey Johnson ended yesterday when Angelos accepted Johnson's resignation as Orioles manager only hours after Johnson learned he had been overwhelmingly named American League Manager of the Year.

Three weeks after the Orioles were eliminated from the American League Championship Series, Johnson faxed his resignation offer to Angelos. At 3: 02 p.m., Johnson received Angelos' acceptance, and a two-year relationship that featured consecutive trips to the ALCS and the third wire-to-wire title in league history was over.

"I wrestled with the decision for two weeks," Johnson said. "I was thinking it would be resolved and worked out and I'd get the support I needed to win a championship in Baltimore. It wasn't forthcoming. I was giving him the opportunity to make a change, and he took it."

Angelos did not return calls from The Sun yesterday.

However, Angelos told the New York Times: "Certainly there is strong indication the timing was being considered. The timing might not be accidental. But that's his prerogative. This chapter is over. I wish him well."

The messy divorce is oddly appropriate for an ill-fitting match that produced as much internal combustion as it did on-field success.

Johnson leaves with a 186-138 record as Orioles manager. Just as he is the third manager to leave the organization since Angelos purchased the team in 1993, it is the second time in three seasons Johnson has left a club after taking it to the playoffs. Johnson, with the highest winning percentage among active major-league managers, came to the Orioles after guiding the Cincinnati Reds to the National League Central title in 1995.

Though Orioles players knew it was possible that Johnson could be fired, most seemed surprised to hear of his resignation. Many of the same players who thought his style overbearing in 1996 sounded disappointed to learn of his departure.

"This one is not going to roll off me that easy. I have a lot of respect for Davey. I think he felt the same toward me," said first baseman Rafael Palmeiro. "I felt he did a good job. He did. He won Manager of the Year. It's not like some of the other guys I've played for who've lost their job. Some of those guys I really didn't care for. I care for Davey."

However, Angelos said last night on WBAL Radio that he was going to fire Johnson if he didn't resign first. Johnson reiterated a complaint of receiving too little respect from an owner who tried to isolate him.

At the same time he compared winning his first Manager of the Year award to "winning the Heisman Trophy," Johnson expressed regret over leaving a place that fostered his major-league playing career.

"It's been kind of a hectic day," he said. "I didn't know I wasn't going to be manager of the Orioles when I woke up this morning."

He did by midafternoon. Angelos and Johnson spoke for about 90 minutes last Thursday. Though the conversation was sometimes contentious, Johnson said he hung up believing there was a real chance of salvaging the relationship. He waited for a follow-up call from Angelos. When the call didn't come, Johnson prepared his resignation letter.

The two men never spoke yesterday, but severed their ties via fax, a fitting exchange given the chasm that grew to separate them.

General manager Pat Gillick had no comment regarding yesterday's events except to say he had remained optimistic until learning of Johnson's decision.

The club will now review its coaching staff as the first step toward naming Johnson's successor. Hitting coach Rick Down, a candidate for the expansion Tampa Bay Devil Rays' managing job, and pitching coach Ray Miller are leading candidates. On the radio, Angelos confirmed that the next manager would likely be promoted from within.

Down is believed to be the choice of Gillick and assistant general manager Kevin Malone. Angelos is said to back Miller. Changes within the coaching staff are expected, though the contracts of all the coaches were extended last week.

Johnson stipulated in his resignation letter that Angelos not interfere with his attempt to land another managerial job for the 1998 season. Johnson was under contract through next season, but walked away from a $750,000 salary.

"Money didn't enter into it," he said. "To me, it was what was best for the Orioles and what was better for the organization. I didn't want money to stand in the way."

Johnson's Florida-based agent, Skip Dalton, moved quickly to contact at least one of three teams with a managerial vacancy, the Toronto Blue Jays. A second team, the Devil Rays, said it had no interest in Johnson.

Dalton and Blue Jays general manager Gord Ash exchanged messages last night, and Ash confirmed that he will seek to interview Johnson.

Meanwhile, Devil Rays general manager Chuck LaMar said his club will not expand its list of five finalists to include Johnson.

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