LOS ANGELES -- Former Orioles manager Davey Johnson has landed on his feet again, and he has landed one of the most coveted managerial positions in baseball, signing a three-year contract to manage the Los Angeles Dodgers through the 2001 season.
Johnson actually agreed to terms of the deal -- believed to be worth $4.5 million -- late Thursday, but he was introduced to the Southern California press at Dodger Stadium yesterday afternoon.
"This is undoubtedly the best moment of my life in baseball," said Johnson, "and I've had a lot of great moments."
Indeed, Johnson has had a career full of them. He played on the great Orioles team that swept the Dodgers in the 1966 World Series. He led the New York Mets to the world championship in 1986. He took the Cincinnati Reds to the playoffs in 1995. And he reached the American League Championship Series in both of the seasons (1996-97) that he managed the Orioles.
But even with a record of accomplishment and success unequaled by any other current manager, he has had trouble staying employed.
That's the Davey package. He's always successful and he's always controversial, which may explain why he was the third choice of new Dodgers general manager Kevin Malone, who worked with him for two years in Baltimore.
Malone first discussed the job with Jim Leyland, who declined to be interviewed before accepting the Colorado Rockies job, then offered it to Expos manager Felipe Alou, who gained enough leverage from the offer to get a three-year, $6 million extension in Montreal.
By the time the Dodgers settled on Johnson, there was a hollow ring to claims by several high-ranking club officials that he was -- to quote Dodgers chairman Peter O'Malley -- "the right man at the right time for this club."
Johnson, 55, took it all in good humor. He spent the past season fishing and scouting and, of course, playing golf, all the while wondering if he would ever get another chance to do what he does best. So, when the Dodgers called his Winter Park, Fla., home, he wasn't about to quibble about the long distance numbers already on their phone bill.
"I think it was a great move on Kevin's part," he said with a smile. "This way he could draft me third and the price would go way down."
He might have been third in the line of succession, but he is the winningest active manager in terms of percentage (.575) and he was named the American League Manager of the Year just 12 months ago. He has never finished lower than second in any full major-league season as a manager.
That record of success made him a seemingly obvious choice for the high-profile Dodgers, whose organizational reputation used to be second to none.
"I think he is going to play a very big role in bringing the Dodgers back to where they used to be," said Dodgers senior vice president Tom Lasorda, whose retirement as manager ended an era of unequaled managerial stability.
The Dodgers had employed just two managers -- Lasorda and the late Walter Alston -- from 1954 to 1996, but went through two last season. They fired Lasorda's successor, Bill Russell, in June and dismissed interim manager Glenn Hoffman soon after Malone became general manager.
Johnson, whose abbreviated terms in New York, Cincinnati and Baltimore have cast doubt on his ability to get along with his
employers, said he hopes to stay in Los Angeles for a long time.
"I've always looked at the Dodgers as the epitome of a great organization," he said. "To be named the manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers was a very emotional, very humbling thing."
It was supposed to be a lovefest, but those pesky questions kept popping up.
What happened in Cincinnati?
What happened in Baltimore?
Johnson shied away from specifics, but insisted that he bore no hard feelings toward any of the teams that employed him. That included Orioles owner Peter Angelos, who became so exasperated with him that he couldn't wait to see him leave town.
"I had a great time in Cincinnati," he said. "It was preordained before my last year that I was going to groom Ray Knight for that job. Marge [Schott] still sends me dog hair, so she must not be too mad at me. And I had a great time in Baltimore. Peter brought me back to Baltimore. I have nothing but great memories."
Obviously, he's ready to turn the page, and why not? He and Malone have relocated to the West Coast and taken over a team that has nothing but tradition and money. It must seem a lot like their arrival in Baltimore before the 1996 season right down to the issue of figuring out what to do with veteran outfielder Bobby Bonilla.
Remember Johnson's introductory news conference at Camden Yards? He made a bad first impression on Angelos with his lighthearted assessment of Bonilla's defense ("He's not a Gold Glover no matter where I put him"). Remember how he tangled with Bonilla over the designated hitter role?