Feud's final turn stuns players Fond of manager, they expected his return

Davey Johnson Resignation

November 06, 1997|By Roch Kubatko and Joe Strauss | Roch Kubatko and Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

Orioles reliever Terry Mathews had been tracking the rumors for weeks from his home in Louisiana, his opinion shifting in various directions. Would manager Davey Johnson return next season, and if not, how would the end come? Each day seemed to bring another twist and turn, and another set of odds, making it nearly impossible to follow.

"One day it was 50-50, the next I heard he was going to be back, the next I heard he was going to be fired, then I heard it was back to 50-50," Mathews said. "I thought it was 100 percent that Davey would be back next year."

So did many of his teammates. But they were proved wrong yesterday when owner Peter Angelos accepted Johnson's resignation shortly after 3 p.m., ending a two-year tenure that was equal parts successful and stormy.

"I knew there were some problems, but I thought they would be worked out," said first baseman Rafael Palmeiro, a free agent after next season. "I had a lot of respect for him [Johnson], and I think he felt the same about me. This one's not going to roll off me that easy."

Shortstop Mike Bordick said: "From what I've been reading and seeing on the news, it didn't look too hopeful that he'd be back. It seems like there's always problems somewhere, but when you keep turning to it on TV and in the paper, you're saying, 'Oh boy, it must be a little worse than we think.' It was surprising that Davey resigned, though, after two years in a row with the Orioles being in the playoffs.

"I think Davey handled the team great. We were always ready to play. To me, there weren't any problems in the clubhouse or anything. It seemed like everything was fine. He understood what this team was about. He let the veterans do their thing and he trusted the players. I think things worked out."

Not in the end. Not for Johnson, who was named the American League's Manager of the Year on the same day he resigned.

"That's pretty ironic. That's actually the definition of the word," said center fielder Brady Anderson, a free agent and one of Johnson's biggest supporters.

"He let me play, even sometimes when he felt he shouldn't. He gave me the opportunity to start the season with a broken rib, when I'm sure his gut feeling told him he'd rather I took some time off. I wouldn't go out and play if I was going to hurt the team's chances of winning. Davey knew that. But to complain about [the resignation] at this point is a little too late. Now, it's time to move on."

But what about the free agents the Orioles would like to acquire? Does Johnson's resignation send the wrong message to them and their agents?

"I think it is fair to say this is unsettling," said Barry Axelrod, agent of Houston pitcher Darryl Kile, one of the top names on the Orioles' free-agent list. "I think in the short run, this will affect how some people may look at Baltimore. When a guy considers a new city, he thinks about a lot of things -- where his family will live, who his teammates will be, and who his manager is. Right now, that's a negative as far as they're concerned. They don't have a manager yet. I know players who have played for Davey, and all of them say he's a guy they like to play for. That was a positive."

Added Jeff Borris, agent for Anderson: "This is definitely not a positive, as far as Brady is concerned."

Anderson spoke yesterday of his respect for Angelos and how he liked the owner as a person, but added, "I'm still a little confused about the relationship with him and Davey. I guess that's over with now. There was a rift between them, obviously. I don't know what about specifically, but for Davey to resign, he must feel another team is going to pick him up. I'm sure he'll have another job shortly, but you can't resign and go manage another team unless you're allowed to resign."

Mathews favored Johnson's return despite the manager's apparent loss of confidence in him during the Division Series. He said they cleared the air over the right-hander's role with the team after his disastrous outing on Oct. 4, when he entered Game 3 in the ninth inning to a chorus of boos from the Camden Yards crowd and proceeded to give up back-to-back homers in a 4-2 loss to the Seattle Mariners. Johnson said afterward that he was reluctant to pitch Mathews again at home, and didn't use him the rest of the postseason.

"Davey gave me the answer that I kind of already knew was there," Mathews said. "All during the season, any time the game was in a situation where it looked like we could be tied going into extra innings, I was always the guy he saved who would be able to go four or five innings. I had done it before. That's exactly what he told me. I was only with Davey a little over a year and didn't know him to lie to me during that period.

" I thought they were just going to kind of blow smoke at each other and everything would be just like it was," Mathews said of the Johnson-Angelos rift. "I wouldn't have been disappointed at all to see Davey back. He seems to win everywhere he goes. There's something to that."

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