For Angelos, open season on managers

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Some managers dare to be great.

Davey Johnson should dare to be fired.

Call a news conference. And call Peter Angelos' bluff.

"I was hired to restore the Orioles to their past glory, and we're on our way," Johnson could say.

"If Mr. Angelos feels I can't complete the job, then he should dismiss me. Otherwise, he should support my efforts for the 1997 season."

Martyr or manager?

Let Angelos decide.

Johnny Oates wouldn't. Phil Regan couldn't. But Johnson needs to stand up for himself, or else he could end up the '90s version of Cal Ripken Sr. -- in trouble from Opening Day.

Doesn't matter that the Orioles reached the postseason for the first time since 1983.

Doesn't matter that they upset the defending American League-champion Cleveland Indians in the Division Series.

Doesn't matter that Johnson has the highest winning percentage among active major-league managers.

It happens every October.

Just as a werewolf howls when the moon turns full, Angelos torments his manager when the leaves turn color.

Less than a year ago, he received just praise for seizing a second chance to hire Johnson and luring general manager Pat Gillick out of retirement.

Now, both Johnson and Gillick are in limbo.

If one leaves, it's a sin.

And if both leave, it would be fair to accuse Angelos of being everything he claims he isn't, which is the Steinbrenner of the Chesapeake.

The Johnson speculation would end immediately if Angelos would just say, "I want Davey back."

But what's he saying?

Johnson "is under contract to the club."

He might as well add, "unfortunately."

"I have no plans to talk to Davey about what's been in the papers," Angelos said yesterday. "I think this is nothing more than the proverbial tempest in the teapot.

"I think Davey will be OK. We've got a great new pitching coach [Ray Miller], and many other exciting things are in store. This should be a time of relaxation and great expectations."

Should be, but isn't, because no one knows where he stands.

Oh, Angelos doesn't want to fire Johnson -- that would obligate him to pay the $1.5 million remaining on the final two years of the manager's contract.

No, the owner's apparent preference is for Johnson to resign and save him the expense.

If Gillick follows, so be it.

He's the one who wanted to trade Bobby Bonilla and David Wells, remember?

Angelos does.

Angelos is the smartest guy in the room.

Angelos is the hero who saved the season.

Angelos is an owner headed for a serious fall.

Who's the next manager, Bonilla?

The players would love that -- they could play wherever they wanted, swing however they wanted, do whatever they wanted.

They detest change, and any agent of change. But how can anyone expect them to respect their superiors when Angelos doesn't?

Some of the owner's criticisms of Johnson are valid. But their differences should be settled privately, not aired in the newspapers.

Indeed, even if the point is simply to put Johnson on notice, Angelos would have more credibility if he hadn't played this same game with Oates, then Regan.

The Washington Post quoted sources yesterday as saying that Angelos "had a stern conversation with Johnson on Tuesday in which Angelos reprimanded Johnson for several critical remarks he made about Orioles players during the season."

Only two people knew of that conversation.

And it's not something Johnson would want written.

Angelos is correct if he believes Johnson is too quick to publicly criticize players. He's also correct if he believes Johnson was out of line when he said the Orioles should reduce their payroll from $50 million to $40 million.

The problem is, Angelos crosses the same lines, criticizing Gillick and Johnson implicitly, and sometimes explicitly. And if he's so intent on adhering to a management flow chart, he Angelos shouldn't be hiring the manager or vetoing trades -- that's the GM's job.

But he's the owner.

The owner sets the tone.

And the owner does whatever the heck he pleases.

Thus, Angelos might complain about Johnson lifting Mike Mussina too quickly in one postseason game, and leaving him in too long in another.

He might even fire his pitching coach to instigate a confrontation with his manager, though Angelos vehemently denied that published claim, saying, "If I've got something to say, I say it directly, loudly and clear."

Really?

Angelos fired Oates only after it was reported that he was pursuing Tony La Russa. And it took him almost a month to fire Regan and former GM Roland Hemond.

He could be a great owner -- he possesses a love of his hometown, a willingness to spend, a fierce desire to win. But he can never be considered a great owner when every October produces another "tempest in a teapot."

Johnson took the Orioles to the American League Championship Series with a one-dimensional offense, a below-average defense and a 5.14 team ERA.

He must have done something right.

Dare to be fired, Davey.

Preserve your dignity, if not your job.

Pub Date: 10/18/96

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