It's chagrin for all concerned in Angelos-Johnson soap opera

It's a troubling scenario in which Peter Angelos, owner of the Orioles, talked himself into believing that Davey Johnson's managerial future, with only one more year remaining on his contract, should be relegated to limbo because of what he felt was an unethical maneuver -- which it was. What is abundantly clear from the soap-opera experience is that Angelos isn't totally enamored of Johnson, despite his coveted winning record, and came close to terminating his services.

Angelos, no doubt, convinced himself of the severity of the "crime." In truth, it wasn't so serious that Johnson deserved to be discharged. Implications of wrongdoing were in evidence and a case could have been presented against Johnson, who obviously blundered without thinking. He grossly mishandled the circumstances, precipitating the problem that turned into a cause celebre a manager involved in fining one of the players, Roberto Alomar, and then creating funds for the charity of the manager's wife.


Yet, at the same time, there was seemingly no intent on Johnson's part to defraud the Orioles or to directly hold Alomar up to unfair criticism. The entire episode must be considered as bizarre stupidity on the part of Johnson, a man who otherwise is endowed with intelligence, leadership ability and deserves, without a doubt, to remain with the Orioles.

Johnson's most grievous mistake occurred when he arbitrarily decided where the fine money should go. That was a club decision, not his. Guilty, yes, but it was born out of poor judgment and not an attempt at deception.


From the beginning, Johnson handled the Alomar penalty with the hands of a butcher, far from the polish and eloquence of the communicator he is known to be. First of all, he should have informed Angelos of what was planned and not let the owner learn about it from other sources.

The fine Johnson leveled against Alomar came to a total of $10,500 for missing an exhibition game in Rochester and, earlier, a team banquet in Baltimore. This was not much more than pocket change for Alomar. The amount should have been considerably more, considering what Alomar is paid and how he ran out on the team. He violated his contract by not showing up for the date in Rochester and the dinner appearance. AWOL on both occasions. Johnson couldn't allow the matter to pass unanswered or unpenalized.

These were official events, fully authorized by the club, and the players were supposed to be present. Other Orioles had to be there. An exception could not be made for Alomar. Johnson, most emphatically, should have doubled the amount but, at the same time, erred in not apprising the owner of what he was doing. After all, Alomar was a no-show and that couldn't be condoned.

Johnson's subsequent action proved again that even smart men are fully capable of doing dumb things. He compounded the difficulty when the manager instructed Alomar to write the check to Johnson's favorite charity, one for which the manager's wife, Susan, serves as a fund-raiser. The impropriety of it all. Too bad. Whatever happened to true volunteerism? Johnson is being paid handsomely to manage the Orioles, a salary of $750,000, so it's appropriate to wonder why his wife wouldn't donate her time to charity without compensation expected.

To each his own, but had Susan Johnson been working as a volunteer instead of a paid employee, the dispute over how her husband handled the Alomar fine would not have carried the same taint of wrongdoing. But Johnson made a decision that he regretted in a case that was self-incriminating. He has little defense and, even though he may not have surreptitiously attempted to direct money in the name of charity to his wife's employer, the perception was there.

Yet to fire Johnson as Orioles manager over the misdeed would have been too severe a punishment. For him to leave at this time would have put a cloud over his reputation and damaged an otherwise good name. And it would also be self-destructive for the Orioles. Such a consequence isn't in the best interests of any of the parties involved -- the Johnsons, Angelos, Alomar and, certainly, the Orioles as an organization.

When the fining incident took place, Angelos, as the owner, should have summoned Johnson to his office and told him, as a father might tell a son, or a boss to an employee, that he wanted a full explanation of his actions. Such a discussion never happened.

Johnson was quoted as saying, dating to July 25, that he felt if he didn't win the World Series he would be fired.


This was nudging Angelos into a corner and he interpreted it as some kind of a plot on Johnson's part to put the onus on the owner. That hardly seemed to be the manager's intention, but Angelos believed it was a power play, however subtle. Still, Angelos kept repeating Johnson had another year on his contract and that he, Angelos, had no comment on the situation.

Angelos wouldn't confirm that Johnson was coming back, so the conjecture continued to build. The only elaboration he offered was that the subject of Johnson's not returning was something that the manager had contrived. Still, no clarification was forthcoming.

Where would the public have been in all of this? A victim, too, because it would have lost the capabilities of a solid manager and the Orioles would have taken a hard hit in the area of public relations and also in the operation of the team on the field.

The departure of radio announcer Jon Miller a year ago and the resulting furor would have been mild by comparison if Johnson had gone out the door. Angelos couldn't have justified a %J departure by simply citing the fact that the manager had steered the fine to his own wife's charitable endeavors.

The Orioles might believe that with crowds piling into the park in record numbers there is no chance for ticket sales to decline. Don't ever believe that. If the fans are unhappy, they'll vent their displeasure the only way they can -- by staying away. A crack in interest leads to an erosion, then a chasm. This is something the Angelos administration has never had to face, but the open rift with Johnson has the potential of leading to such a development.

Angelos objected to Johnson's frequently coming to the locker room late, probably after a round of golf, and not holding practices to prepare for the postseason games. The second Angelos complaint is nebulous, even though such topics are strictly matters of opinion. The Orioles didn't need to have compulsory workouts to get ready for the playoffs. They had six weeks of spring training, played 162 games of the regular schedule and were in first place the entire way.


Hopefully a truce can be made between the combatants. Then the Orioles can get on with preparing for 1998 instead of being trapped in a turmoil that didn't need to happen.

The Angelos-Johnson battle adds nothing to the betterment of baseball, the Orioles or the reputation of either the owner or the manager. It's a classic case of a dispute exploding out of proportion. If there's to be another such intramural struggle, Johnson had best hire himself a good lawyer. He could ask Angelos to take his case.

Pub Date: 11/02/97