Office needs to tell Johnson thank you, but no thank you

May 28, 2007|By DAVID STEELE

So, you like the idea of Davey Johnson making a triumphant return to the Orioles' dugout, do you?

Don't feel bad. Earl Weaver coming back seemed like a great idea at the time, too.

And, for readers in our Redskins-loving circulation area, Joe Gibbs' return was going to be the answer to all your prayers. Wasn't it?

Be careful what you wish for. Not just Orioles fans, who are figuratively sweeping Johnson back into office by voting for him at baltimoresun.com's who-should-replace-Sam poll.

That goes for the decision-makers in the warehouse. Let's hope they aren't outsmarting themselves. The idea, reported in yesterday's Sun, of replacing Sam Perlozzo if and when the time comes with the deposed leader of the Orioles' last playoff team, has an unsettling whiff of pandering to it.

What better product to sell to the most disgruntled fan base the Orioles have ever had than the manager whose bitter departure 10 years ago is widely agreed to have been the beginning of the end for this franchise?

Sorry. A decade of losing tends to bring out the cynic in anyone.

If you hear it once a day, you hear it a thousand times from the increasingly unfaithful: Everything was just fine while Davey was here, and everything has stunk since he left. Even if Johnson's departure didn't directly cause the Orioles to slowly sink to the bottom, it sent up the first real warning flare that something was terribly amiss in the House of Angelos - that the honeymoon was pretty much over.

Burying that hatchet would go a long way toward healing the rift between Baltimore and the Orioles, or at least delay it from becoming a canyon.

It wouldn't do that as well as winning would, though.

And if the prodigal manager does come marching through the gates, he'd better start winning, and winning fast - or else the clock will start ticking on his honeymoon, too.

Which means the Orioles had better be absolutely, positively, lead-pipe-lock sure that the manager really is the problem. Not just a problem. The problem.

Otherwise, you go get a manager who can massage more out of this roster than Perlozzo has - and who isn't a hero from the past who can provide a short-term jolt to the team's popularity and keep the dogs from snapping at its heels.

Davey Johnson fits the latter bill. It's anyone's guess whether he fits the former. Well, actually, it's the front office's guess. It had better guess right.

That, of course, is the hard part about bringing the torches and battering rams to a manager's door. Sure, get rid of him, but who do you have replacing him? There are no easy answers. In fact, the easy answers far too often turn out to be the worst. Bringing back a legend who brings a gleam to the fans' eyes at the very mention of his name - that's usually the easy answer.

Sometimes that works. Not around here lately, though.

Weaver's return accomplished little more than these: a stop-the-presses introduction, an emotional send-off a year and a half later and an unattractive interruption in the symmetry of his career totals. Orioles, 1968-1982 looks great; 1985-1986 is ugly. The seventh-place finish is even uglier.

Gibbs? Same thing. The day the ever-brilliant Daniel Snyder reintroduced Gibbs 12 years after he walked away from a Hall of Fame career, astronomers say the sun actually stopped lighting the Earth and focused all of its power on Redskins Park. The past three years, though, have been mostly dark, and the Canton pedestal a little tarnished.

Johnson doesn't bring those credentials, but considering the blight on the city the Orioles have been lately, he brings that kind of cachet. Meanwhile, he won't bring a roster of those kinds of players. To paraphrase an old Rick Pitino saying, Cal Ripken Jr. ain't walking through that door, Mike Mussina ain't walking through that door, Robbie Alomar ain't walking through that door.

If Johnson walked through that door, he'd face the same clubhouse that didn't raise a finger in support of its current manager. With players who argued with him and scuffled with one another and rolled their eyes at his moves and who, most of all, stumbled around for weeks at a time blowing leads and failing in clutch at-bats and hitting a wall too early in their starts.

Players who basically put their manager on the hot seat and did little to turn down the temperature. Oh, and players this front office brought together at a high price they're not living up to.

It'll take more than nostalgia to turn that around.

Of course, this is not to say Johnson couldn't do it; you don't put up the numbers he has by accident, and it hasn't been an accident that no Orioles manager has put up numbers anywhere close since that dark day in fall 1997. He might very well be exactly what this team needs, whatever that is.

The guys at the warehouse know it's going to take more to wrestle this thing back on track than a trip down memory lane.

Don't they?

They must. Just because the guys who brought back Earl Weaver and Joe Gibbs didn't know it doesn't mean these guys don't.

david.steele@baltsun.com

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