Jun 25

I’m glad Davey is back

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.

JOHNSON: He's back.

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.

 

Apr 30

April 30.10: On to Philly.

The Mets didn’t win anything on their recent homestand and they won’t win anything this weekend in Philadelphia.

Neither will the Phillies.

The most important thing coming out of the homestand, and this weekend’s series, is it has made the Mets’ season relevant again. It might have started with the promotion of Ike Davis and ended with perhaps the best 10-game regular season stretch in franchise history, but in between we saw the Mets play alert, aggressive baseball.

We saw the Mets play as they promised us they would. We saw them play as if they wanted our attention.

And, they deserved it.

What I am looking forward to in this series are three games of intense baseball, of a rivalry where the competitive juices are flowing.

After all the promoting it as such, it finally is a rivalry worth paying attention to again. Each one of the games has a special nugget of intrigue.

Tonight is about Jon Niese and how the young pitcher will respond to the pressure of a high profile game. Niese giving the Mets six strong tonight will go a long way toward answering some of their pitching questions. It would also prevent an emotional let down.

After a week-and-a-half of being on an emotional high, tonight is about sustaining. The last thing we want to see is for Niese to get hammered and to lose that good feeling.

Tomorrow, and this is the game I really want to see, is Mike Pelfrey against Roy Halladay. In a season full of tests for Pelfrey, this is another one. Aren’t you curious about seeing him go against an ace?

Sunday it is the stopper, Johan Santana, who would be pitching to either stave off a disappointment or continue the ride. It will be as important a game as you can have in May, and you want your best.

The Mets went 9-1 because they played to their capabilities, but also because they did not try to exceed them. They played within themselves and didn’t try to do something they weren’t capable of doing.

They need that same, level approach this weekend, and if they get it, then it could be the start of a wonderful summer.