Of all the managers I’ve covered, Davey Johnson might be the most intriguing. He heard, and marched to one drum, that being his own. He might be the only person to be named manager of the year and fired on the same day.
Many of the memories I carry from covering Major League Baseball for over 20 years happened off the field and not during a game, such as the afternoon in Baltimore when I was sitting next to Johnson during his pre-game press briefing.
Johnson was winding things down, when unprompted, threw out this nugget. Maybe it was to mess with our upcoming off day.
“You know,’’ he began in that slow drawl of his, “I’ve been thinking of moving Cal Ripken to third base.’’
Nugget? For an Orioles’ writer then, it was a bombshell. And, to make it more interesting is he floated the idea without talking to Ripken. He knew we’d all flock to Ripken like ants at a picnic, and this might have been his way of testing the waters.
Another time, Bobby Bonilla – the ultimate team player – didn’t want to play as the DH, this coming several weeks after saying he’d do anything to help the Orioles.
When he name wasn’t in the lineup, Johnson told us Bonilla had a sore ankle and underwent treatment. When asked about his ankle, Bonilla let loose the following obscenity: “Why don’t you ask the (bleeping) manager how it is?’’
Johnson was shaming Bonilla to DH.
Any team Johnson manages is his team, and he takes crap from nobody. Not an iconic figure like
Ripken, not a faux star such as Bonilla, and not a prima donna rookie.
Johnson had his way of dealing with players, and one was to utilize the press, and we were all willing to scoop up what he said.
The Orioles were in Milwaukee one year and going through a miserable stretch, and on this day they blew a game to the Brewers in the late innings. The clubhouse at old County Stadium didn’t have a manager’s office. Instead, there was a desk adjacent to the trainer’s room and players passed by us throughout the interview.
Speaking loud enough where everybody could hear, Johnson took apart his team, basically holding a team meeting in front of the press. No cursing, no yelling, no name calling. But, it was clear he was angry and not in a tolerant mood.
Johnson, of course, as he did with the Mets, got his point across.
Later in that series, Johnson made a decision I didn’t understand.
“Davey,’’ I asked. “I’m not being a wise guy. But, I don’t know as much baseball as you and don’t understand that decision. Could you explain?’’
As Johnson stared at me for a couple of seconds, I felt his glare go through me, but I never released eye contact. He realized I wasn’t kidding, that I didn’t understand, so he laid it all out for me.
So sarcasm, just teaching. Johnson loves to talk about the intricacies of the game. He’s a great teacher, and he’s going to a team in the Washington Nationals that could learn from him.
When it comes to strategy and analyzing a game, few can do it like Johnson and the Nationals are lucky to have him in their dugout. He will make that team smarter and concentrate on the fundamentals.
The Nationals still don’t have the overall talent to compete this year or next, but they will be better.
I’m glad Davey is back in the game and can’t wait until the Nationals are in town.