Detour on Oriole Way still drives Davey Johnson to pain

September 19, 1998|By Ken Rosenthal

Davey Johnson was on the phone, talking about all that was for the Orioles, and all that might have been under general manager Pat Gillick and former assistant GM Kevin Malone.

"I thought with those two guys and myself, we were taking the organization in the right direction," Johnson said the other night from his home in Winter Park, Fla. "I know the loss of those two guys is large."

Johnson, Gillick and Malone helped guide the Orioles to back-to-back appearances in the American League Championship Series in 1996 and '97. Those heady times are but a distant memory now.

Johnson resigned after a personality conflict with owner Peter Angelos last season. Malone left to become the GM in Los Angeles eight days ago. Gillick will resign at the end of the season.

The best management team in baseball, going, going, gone.

Johnson said he does not feel vindicated by Angelos' failure to keep Gillick and Malone, or by the Orioles' fall from grace this season under his successor, Ray Miller.

He views the Orioles not just as a former manager, but also as a former player from the team's glory years. It bothers him to see them lose Gillick and Malone, bothers him to see what the organization has become.

"When I first broke in -- and this is the direction the club needs to be thinking about -- we had a pretty good ballclub," Johnson said, recalling his first full season in 1966.

"We had Brooks [Robinson], Boog [Powell], those kinds of guys. Then all of a sudden, [Mark] Belanger was at shortstop, I was at second base, [Andy] Etchebarren was catching with Elrod [Hendricks], [Paul] Blair was in center.

"[Luis] Aparicio and [Jerry] Adair were gone. We blended the veterans with some young players. Then along came [Bobby] Grich. Along came [Don] Baylor. That was the Oriole Way. The Oriole Way was developing from within. But that's not going to happen."

Johnson said that he does not believe that Angelos will commit to young players, even with the Orioles starting to develop prospects such as first baseman Calvin Pickering, second baseman Jerry Hairston and third baseman Ryan Minor.

"I know that's the way you create a real strong organization. You develop from within, you use the free-agent market, you make trades," Johnson said. "But I don't see them allowing the baseball people to do that. And that's a shame.

"As good as the Yankees are, what are they doing? [Derek] Jeter and Bernie Williams are young players who came up and established themselves. They're trying to do that with [Ricky] Ledee. They did it with [Jorge] Posada.

"I could go on. And they're talking about this being the greatest team ever. That's the way the Orioles used to be a great organization. And the continuity -- they're getting away from that. I just hate to see it."

Continuity -- that was part of the Orioles' justification for replacing Johnson with Miller. But the next GM will be Angelos' third since taking over the club in October 1993. Before Gillick, they had six in 41 years.

Continuity? Miller followed Johnson, who followed Phil Regan, who followed Johnny Oates. If he is fired next season -- a possibility if the Orioles again disappoint -- the new manager would be Angelos' fifth in seven years.

Johnson was the Orioles' best manager since Earl Weaver. He finished first with the Orioles, Cincinnati Reds and New York Mets. None of those teams has won a title since replacing him as manager.

Naturally, he wants to manage again -- "Baseball is just kind of in your blood. You die with it in there," said Johnson, who currently is serving as the scouting coordinator for the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks of the Japanese Pacific League.

His next chance might come in Detroit, where owner Mike Ilitch reportedly wants to hire a baseball version of Scotty Bowman with the Tigers moving into their new stadium in 2000.

The Orioles?

Johnson watches them on satellite television, reads about them online. He said he derives no satisfaction from their '98 crash. Vindication, he said, is an "awfully strong word."

"I don't have those kinds of emotions," Johnson said. "When you work in an organization, you become close to the players. You don't want any adversity to fall on them. I want 'em all to do well.

"Pat and Kevin have been there, a lot of the coaches that I've had have been there. I feel for them not doing the things they're capable of doing. I know it's been a long year."

Under Johnson, the Orioles' longest losing streak was six games. Under Miller, they have had losing streaks of 10, nine and eight games.

Would such streaks have occurred under Johnson?

"I don't know anything about that," he said.

C'mon, Davey.

"They've been awfully good, awfully bad, all year long."

A 10-game losing streak?

"They're too good to have a 10-game losing streak, I'll tell you that."

Too good to lose 10 straight.

And now they're losing Gillick and Malone.

"Pat, I think, is the best general manager in baseball," Johnson said. "Just the way he handles people, not only within the organization, but through all of baseball. The two years I was there with him, the way he could call up an agent and talk to him, reach out to GMs, I thought was exceptional."

Gillick and Malone shared a background in scouting, and they enjoyed breaking off from the major-league club on occasion to assess potential draft picks.

"The work that Kevin and Pat put in looking at [amateur] free agents all over the country, going to all those little towns, that wasn't part of their job description," Johnson said. "They were trying to build a solid minor-league system, something the Orioles didn't have."

They were all trying. Trying to make it work. Trying to restore the Orioles to greatness.

"I just thought it was on the right track," Davey Johnson said.

Pub Date: 9/19/98

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