Lines form for 'Davey does L.A.'

October 23, 1998|By Ken Rosenthal

LOS ANGELES -- Get ready for the Los Angeles Daveys.

Fox has changed everything else with the Dodgers, so why not the name of the team? Davey Johnson certainly would approve. If he had gotten the Detroit job, he might have crowed that the "D" on the uniform stood for you-know-who.

Well, Johnson last night scored an even bigger coup, filling the chair that once belonged to Walter Alston and Tom Lasorda, landing one of the most prized jobs in sports.

That's right, No. 15 is back, ready to bleed Dodger blue and turn his superiors gray, not necessarily in that order. He will be introduced today at a Dodger Stadium news conference at 4: 30 p.m. EDT.

Marge Schott, Peter Angelos, Rupert Murdoch -- Johnson sure knows how to pick 'em. The over/under on his firing is Oct. 31, 2000, right after he leads the Dodgers back to the World Series, and right before he causes an earthquake.

The over/under on Bobby Bonilla's departure?

Quick, get your money down.

"The minute they sign him, I know I'm not going to be there much longer," Bonilla told the Los Angeles Times. "They know the situation. It's no secret how I feel [about Johnson]."

Bonilla feuded with Johnson over being used as a DH with the Orioles in 1996. The following spring, after signing with Florida, he called Johnson "a hot-air balloon," adding, "I wouldn't hire him to manage my Rotisserie League team."

Demi and Bruce. Roseanne and Tom. Davey and Bobby.

Hey, everyone gets divorced in L.A.

Just think, the first phone call that the new Orioles GM receives could be from Malone, offering Bonilla in a trade as a possible replacement for free-agent first baseman Rafael Palmeiro.

Dodgers GM Kevin Malone will ask for Armando Benitez, and Johnson will turn the erratic closer into a 50-save terror who makes Trevor Hoffman look like Doug Jones.

The Orioles are hereby warned.

Davey being Davey, he used his final USA Today "Dugout Insights" column to announce that the New York Yankees sweeping the World Series was a fantastic finish to a great season, but not quite fantastic enough.

"The only thing that would make it better is me getting a job," Johnson wrote, practically winking in print. "Of course, I can always be a sportswriter."

Sure, he could.

He'd win a Pulitzer, and then get fired.

The Tigers didn't want him, choosing Larry Parrish and his 25 games of experience over Johnson and his five postseason appearances, including a world championship with the New York Mets and back-to-back trips to the ALCS with the Orioles.

The truth is, Malone didn't want him, either. He offered the Dodgers job to Felipe Alou. He asked to discuss it with Jim Leyland and Tom Kelly. Only after those three options fell through did he choose Johnson over Kevin Kennedy.

"I feel very good about this," Malone said last night. "All along, I've felt that the right person and the best person for this job is the person we hired."

What about Alou?

Oh, never mind.

"I think it's a good hire for the Dodgers," Detroit GM Randy Smith said yesterday. "If I was in Kevin's shoes, and not a year or a year and a half away from contention, there's no doubt what I would have done."

Johnson apparently told friends that he would have preferred to manage the Tigers over the Dodgers, just to prove that he could win with a young team. But he immediately launched into his "I Love L.A." mode after Alou decided to stay in Montreal. Smith didn't think he was the right fit, anyway.

"To me, we're still an organization in a developmental stage," Smith said. "We felt that what happens before the game and after the game is the edge that put [Parrish] over the top.

"From 7 to 10 [p.m.], it's hard to find a better manager than Davey Johnson. His record speaks for itself. We just felt right now that we need somebody who could help these kids mature at the major-league level more than we needed a game manager."

Malone evidently shares some of Smith's concerns. The Los Angeles Times quoted a source yesterday saying that he "has issues" with Johnson from their days together with the Orioles. He questioned Johnson's work habits. He also wasn't thrilled when Johnson would play GM, clamoring for this player or that.

Poor Malone. Poor Dodgers.

Life with Davey will be as terrible as it was in Baltimore.

Really, who wants to go to the playoffs every year?

The bottom line is, Malone knows that Johnson will win, because Johnson always wins. The new GM upset Fox by making his search so public -- and so embarrassing to a once-proud franchise unaccustomed to rejection. But Johnson will make Malone good, assuming the Dodgers' problems aren't insurmountable.

Too often, teams hire managers with whom they're comfortable rather than managers who stand the best chance of winning -- Ray Miller is one example, Parrish another. Malone, as much as anyone, should understand that Johnson is like any gifted employee. You put up with his eccentricities, learn to live with him.

He's certainly preferable to Kennedy, who lost control of his clubs in Texas and Boston, buddying up to certain players, even allowing Jose Canseco to blow out his arm pitching. To put it in Hollywood terms, choosing him over Johnson would have been like choosing Rob Lowe over Robert DeNiro as your leading man.

In any case, the fun will begin today at Johnson's news conference. The day the New York Mets hired him in 1984, Johnson joked, "I want to congratulate Frank Cashen on being smart enough to hire me." The day the Orioles hired him in 1995, he cracked, "Pete [Angelos] said he only writes out the lineup card on Sundays."

Johnson no doubt will be in rare form, predicting the Dodgers' return to greatness, suggesting changes in Fox's programming, perhaps offering to write a column in Murdoch's New York Post.

He'll talk the talk, and walk the walk.

Lights, camera, friction.

The Los Angeles Daveys are rolling.

Pub Date: 10/23/98

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