Johnson opens door for his exit

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Well, Davey Johnson is no dummy.

He thinks he'll get fired if the Orioles don't make it to the World Series, and he's absolutely right.

Johnson nearly got fired last season when the Orioles didn't make it to the World Series. The New York Mets fired him. The Cincinnati Reds fired him. And Orioles owner Peter Angelos probably is just waiting for his chance.

Knowing all that, why would Johnson even entertain a question regarding his job security at this critical point of the season? And why would he give Angelos such a blatant opening?

It's almost as if he has a death wish.

Johnson is media savvy from his days in New York. He understands the implications of everything he says. Perhaps he wants to shift attention to Angelos. Perhaps he feels that his relationship with the owner is so rocky, he has nothing to lose.

If the manager could just lay low, he would receive immense sympathy after his inevitable dismissal. But Johnson can't lay low. He's shrewd and manipulative. A good manager, but not necessarily a good employee.

Oh, we could go on and on about Johnson, his history of self-destruction, his unusually stiff $10,500 fine to Roberto Alomar, his tendency to irritate certain segments of his front office when he describes the shortcomings of his roster.

But that would be missing the point.

Only under an owner like Angelos would a manager talk about getting fired when he has the best record in the league, when he has been in first place all season.

Directly or not, Johnson is feeling the heat. And by declining to comment, Angelos didn't exactly give him a vote of confidence.

Here's what Johnson should have said:

"This is my dream job. I signed for three years and I want to stay three years. If we play the way we're capable of playing, everything will take care of itself."

And here's how Angelos should have responded:

"Davey is signed through 1998, and I expect him to remain the manager through 1998. Our focus is on winning the World Series, and nothing else."

Really, is this so difficult?

Uh, ask Phil Regan.

Or Johnny Oates.

A new manager next season would be the Orioles' fourth in five years. That's a Stein brenner-esque pace, and none of Angelos' foils ever resembled Billy Martin.

Still, it's always something.

Oates was too meek, but Johnson is too cocksure. Regan was somewhere in between, but what did it matter? He wasn't a very good manager.

Now here's Johnson, whom Angelos bypassed for Regan, then hired to replace Regan, then almost fired after reaching the postseason for the first time in 13 years.

You figure it out.

Maybe if there's life on Mars, Angelos can find a manager who will make him happy.

Johnson is the winningest active manager in the majors. He's working on his three straight postseason appearance. He's the Orioles' best strategist since Earl Weaver.

And yet, he's talking about getting fired.

Johnson's second season has gone much smoother than his first, when he feuded with Bobby Bonilla, tried moving Cal Ripken to third base and angered Angelos by publicly criticizing players.

He learned. He adjusted.

Consider his handling of Ripken.

If ever there was a season for a manager to end Ripken's consecutive-games streak, this was it. Ripken is nearing his 37th birthday. He has hit only one home run since June 4. He occasionally suffers back spasms.

But Johnson has never broached the subject, not even when Ripken's back appeared to be bothering him. Johnson didn't need the trouble. The Orioles didn't need the distraction.

On the field? Johnson is a much better manager now that he knows the league. He handles his pitchers deftly, runs a game skillfully. And, let's not forget, he was the lone advocate in the organization for Jeffrey Hammonds.

So, what gives?

Well, Johnson probably didn't help himself when he fined Alomar so heavily for skipping the Orioles' trip to Rochester, N.Y. He issued the fine without consulting his superiors. Not a good idea, considering Angelos regards Alomar almost like a son.

And, just as Johnson upset Angelos last season by suggesting the Orioles reduce their payroll, some club officials were bothered when he recently spoke out about the team's needs, implying that he needed more talent.

That's baseball -- the manager always thinks he needs better players, and the front office always thinks he can get more out of what he has. But under a win-now mandate, it's every man for himself, heightening the tension.

Johnson wouldn't suffer if he got fired; he could sit out a year and collect his salary, and soon enough, another team would come calling. Maybe he knows it's over. Maybe a part of him wants out.

Only one thing is certain:

Peter Angelos doesn't need an invitation to fire his manager.

Pub Date: 7/27/97

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