Bewildered by an issue he says is not of his making, Orioles majority owner Peter Angelos last night appeared to clear manager Davey Johnson's return next season by stating, "There is no threat he's going to lose his job."
Angelos' comment came two days after general manager Pat Gillick had speculated that Johnson had only a 50-50 chance of surviving a season in which the Orioles won their first American League East title since 1983 but collapsed during a disappointing six-game loss to the Cleveland Indians in the American League Championship Series.
The Orioles owner said the club would honor the final year of Johnson's three-year, $2.25 million contract, apparently confirming an Oct. 5 pledge that he would retain his manager.
"He has a contract that is binding and I plan to fulfill the conditions of that contract," Angelos said.
Johnson's return does not necessarily represent a warming of his frosty relationship with Angelos, who has shown no enthusiasm for extending Johnson's contract. The owner remains peeved over the manager's suggestion that he could be fired for failing to reach the World Series, an issue Angelos says he never stoked.
On July 25 Johnson told reporters in Minneapolis, "Basically, I got a three-year contract, but I feel that we've gotta do it [reach the World Series] in two."
Johnson later disputed the quote, claiming it had been taken out of context. He never publicly addressed his job status for the rest of the season.
"One thing is for certain: I have never said that Davey would be fired. I have never said he had to get to the World Series to keep his job. Yet the focus of this is on me. That I don't understand," said Angelos.
Gillick has cited lingering "issues" between Johnson and Angelos believed to be related to Johnson's July fine of second baseman Roberto Alomar. Still, no meeting between manager and owner is scheduled.
In recent days Angelos has become fodder for local sports talk shows with opinion lining up heavily behind retaining Johnson. Many have likened Angelos to combustible New York Yankees boss George Steinbrenner, a comparison that has long rankled the staunchly proud Baltimore native.
"None of this has come from Peter Angelos," Angelos said.
Club sources indicate Angelos is unwilling to buy out the final $750,000 of Johnson's contract, though it is believed the Toronto Blue Jays would have approached him if he had become available.
"There is no basis for him to think he will be fired. If he really thinks that, someone should ask him why," Angelos said.
Johnson has refused interview requests since the end of the season and could not be reached for comment last night.
Said Angelos, who financed baseball's second-largest payroll in 1997: "I've done my best to give Baltimore the most competitive team in baseball. I spent $60 million [in salaries] to advance the baseball fortunes of the Orioles and, in a way, advance the fortunes of the city. I spent my money and put my time in. What I haven't done is said I'm going to fire somebody. None of this has come from Peter Angelos."
Under Johnson, the Orioles are 186-140 (.574) during the regular season and have reached the American League Championship Series twice. Johnson, 54, carries the highest winning percentage (.575) among active managers and has never finished worse than second with the 10 teams he has steered for an entire season.
It is unclear what this means for Johnson's coaching staff. Angelos tweaked Johnson after the 1996 season by demanding the ouster of his pitching coach, Pat Dobson, a former teammate and close ally of the manager. (The rest of Johnson's staff was technically without a contract for two weeks until renewed in mid-November.) Ray Miller succeeded Dobson and is under consideration for a contract extension.
Miller is under contract through next season with a club option for 1999.
Hitting coach Rick Down interviewed yesterday in Cleveland for the Blue Jays' managerial vacancy. Down is one of at least 12 candidates and will learn next week if he is among the finalists for the job. Like Miller, he has a contract through next season. The contracts of third base coach Sam Perlozzo, first base coach John Stearns, bench coach Andy Etchebarren and bullpen coach Elrod Hendricks expire Oct. 31.
Meanwhile, the Orioles continue to lay a foundation for a possible blockbuster trade, and are apparently willing to discuss anyone not covered by a no-trade clause. Between eight and 10 names -- including first baseman Rafael Palmeiro and Alomar -- have been floated with a variety of clubs. Gillick and assistant GM Kevin Malone have used the World Series to canvass both leagues. Because of next month's expansion draft, any deal other than a one-for-one is unlikely until late November.
The Orioles have approached the Boston Red Sox about first baseman Mo Vaughn, like Palmeiro a potential free agent after next season. Any deal for the former MVP would almost certainly include Palmeiro, who has hit 116 home runs and driven in 356 runs the past three seasons.
The club is still uncertain whether Alomar will undergo surgery on his left shoulder. He is supposed to undergo an MRI within the next two weeks.
Pub Date: 10/25/97