Johnson dreams of O's return 'Wouldn't get any better' than managing champ here, he says; Smith accepts Tigers deal; Red finds Angelos isn't 'Big Bad Wolf'


In his mind's eye, Davey Johnson has a vision. He's had it since he started managing. He'd go back to Baltimore, the same place he broke into the majors, where he played with Boog and Brooks and The Blade. And he would manage the Orioles to a title.

Johnson, 52, could very well get that chance next year. Unwanted by the Cincinnati Reds because of a rift with owner Marge Schott, he is the very strong front-runner, after a successful interview with Orioles owner Peter Angelos on Tuesday evening, in the event the Orioles fire or reassign current manager Phil Regan.

"My roots are in Baltimore," Johnson said yesterday, from his home in Florida. "I learned how to play the game there. To go back there and manage the Orioles and win a world championship. . . . It wouldn't get any better than that."

Johnson, like Angelos, thought the Tuesday meeting went very well. When Johnson interviewed for the job last year, he never actually met Angelos; the Orioles owner, busy with what turned out to be a futile attempt to acquire an NFL team, left the search process in the hands of a four-man committee. (Angelos didn't meet Regan until after he had been recommended by the committee.)

Johnson said: "I enjoyed meeting him. You read stories about the Big Bad Wolf [Angelos], but he was really nice."

Johnson, who has the highest career winning percentage of any active manager (.576), said no offer has been extended, but he remains hopeful. It's unlikely the Orioles will formally hire Johnson until after they determine the fate of Regan, who is at home in Michigan. Regan said last night: "As I've said all along, as far as I'm concerned, I'm planning on managing this club until I hear differently."

Any change likely would be announced on an off day before or during the World Series -- next Monday, for example -- or after the Series is completed. Major League Baseball warns clubs each year not to make major announcements that will overshadow the postseason games.

It appears the Orioles will have some ground work to do before determining who will be their general manager for next year, assuming they don't retain current GM Roland Hemond in that role. Ex-Padres GM Randy Smith had been the Orioles' front-runner, but he has accepted a three-year deal with the Detroit Tigers, a move that likely will be announced in the next few days. Smith interviewed with the Orioles, but as of last evening he had not informed the club of his Tigers decision.

Kevin Malone, the former GM of the Montreal Expos, also interviewed for the Orioles' job, and he acknowledged yesterday that he and Johnson spoke several times during the regular season about working together in the future. "I think we have a really good relationship," Malone said. "We're on the same page, with the same goals."

But the Orioles are expected to seek other candidates, such as White Sox assistant GM Dan Evans, Mets executive Gerry Hunsicker (already a candidate to replace Smith in San Diego), and Red Sox assistant GM Mike Port.

The Orioles could seek permission to talk to Gene Michael, who announced yesterday that he is accepting a demotion from Yankees general manager to the club's director of major-league scouting, a move that includes a cut in pay from $550,000 to $150,000.

Michael specifically asked for a clause that would allow him to talk to other clubs about their GM openings, and he said yesterday he is "always open" to outside possibilities. However, Michael, 57, stated that one of the reasons he was willing to accept the demotion is because he wants to reduce his workload.

(Michael also said repeatedly yesterday that he expected Buck Showalter to be retained as Yankees manager.)

Orioles assistant GM Frank Robinson will interview in San Diego next Monday or Tuesday for Smith's old job. Padres insiders recommended Hunsicker to be the next GM, but in an interview Tuesday, Hunsicker did OK -- not great, not awful -- which leaves the door ajar for Robinson. (Frank Wren, the assistant GM of the Florida Marlins, also has been invited to interview.) Either way, Robinson could wind up with the Padres, perhaps as a link between CEO Larry Lucchino and the next San Diego GM.

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