From Frank Cashen, the man who gave Dave Johnson his first job as manager of a major-league baseball team, and never regretted it, comes an enthusiastic personal and professional appraisal. The role of Cashen in the career of Johnson can't be minimized.
He hired him to manage the New York Mets, fired him six years later and, earlier, even traded Johnson The Player to the Atlanta Braves from the Baltimore Orioles. "If I owned a team and was about to pick a manager, he's the one I'd want," explained Cashen in what comprised a ringing endorsement.
Cashen, retired as Mets general manager but still a consultant to the organization, is fully aware the Orioles have Johnson high on their candidates list. And part of the reason for that is the Orioles made a point to find out Cashen's reaction.
"He was a winner from the first word," was the way Cashen broached the subject after being specifically asked to evaluate Johnson. "He won in the minor leagues for the Mets when he was in the farm system and he won in New York. He has the best percentage of any active manager in the majors. He's a good baseball man, a student of the game."
Any similarities to Earl Weaver, one of the managers Johnson played for in Baltimore? "Yes, I saw a lot of Weaver in him, especially the way he used the pitchers," Cashen said. "Davey does a pretty good job handling the press and willingly makes appearances for the club. I know him well. A manager and general manager have to function with an understanding of each other's problems. It's kind of like a marriage in getting along."
Johnson, according to some reporters who have dealt with him, has a "sharp tongue." If so, we never observed the Johnson wrath because, over the years, from the time he broke in as a rookie second baseman of the Orioles in 1966, he was one of the most approachable of players and impressed those he encountered with inherent intelligence and affability.
Players like Johnson's managerial style. He leaves them alone and doesn't impose a lot of "Harry High School" rules. But Cashen says he can come down hard on them when necessary.
"Davey likes to remind everyone he's the only player to bat behind the two most prolific home run hitters in history, Hank Aaron in Atlanta and Sadaharu Oh when he played in Japan," said Cashen.
"I was exceedingly sorry to see Johnny Oates leave the Orioles. I think the team has improved and is close to winning. I don't want to sound as if I'm repeating myself, but Johnson has always been a winner. He's bright and I like him."
As an Oriole, Johnson was the first to put his record into a computer to get a read on performances against certain pitchers. "That's true," said Cashen. "Then Earl Weaver took it up in preparing his lineup. It's my opinion, though, it was Bob Brown, our outstanding publicity director, who originated the entire idea. He took it to Earl and he enlarged on it."
Cashen headed the Orioles when they enjoyed their most momentous success. He quickly credits Harry Dalton for much of the preparation of the Orioles' farm system, a production line that produced such products as Johnson, Jim Palmer, Brooks Robinson, John "Boog" Powell, Andy Etchebarren and a myriad of first-rate prospects.
It's difficult to believe Dalton fell into disfavor with Bud Selig, the owner of the Milwaukee Brewers and now acting commissioner of baseball. Then, again, it's understandable, considering Selig's track record and personality.
"Let me say this with total conviction," added Cashen, "and that is Harry Dalton is the most under-utilized resource in baseball. He's smart, personable and gets along handsomely with people. Harry could have been the league president, the commissioner or exceled in any role you want to put him."
Working for Selig, though, was no joy and Dalton's contract expired Oct. 1, which means if the Orioles are shopping for a general manager, in place of the equally talented Roland Hemond, they may want to interview him. Also, the Orioles still plan to talk to Tony La Russa shortly as a possible manager/general manager, or one job or the other.