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The New Dodger Manager Davey Johnson / The Meaning

He Has the Right Tools for This Job

October 23, 1998|BILL PLASCHKE

So, you want this dump fixed or not?

That will be the question posed to us this morning by Davey Johnson, the new Dodger manager swaggering into town like that hotshot contractor through your front door.

You need a new hardwood floor, new tile in the bathroom, new counters in the kitchen, double-paned windows, somebody to scrape that popcorn off the ceiling.

You know the man standing there in a low-slung tool belt and smirk is the best at getting the job done right and done fast.

But everyone tells you that sometime during the job, he will do something silly or arrogant that will drive you crazy.

And everyone says, by the time he's done, while the joint will look beautiful, you cannot wait to get rid of him.

And goodness, he's not at all like the sweet old man who built the house in the first place.

So, you want this dump fixed or not?

I say, yes.

Hiring Davey Johnson is not simply a personnel move, it's a statement.

The Dodgers will do whatever it takes to win a championship again, and win one quickly, even if it means irritating noise and flying dust.

Dodger tradition? Forget tradition for a while.

I never thought I would write that, but I never thought I would be looking at a team full of strangers, either.

For now, Davey Johnson has as much to do with Dodger tradition as Davey Jones, but hold your tongue. Enjoy the change of scenery. Let him do his work.

The baseline Dodger tradition is winning. And in a couple of years, Johnson's history says you will have your Dodger tradition back.

Johnson can look at the problems eating away at the crumbling Dodger clubhouse and say, been there, done that.

He won with the young and out-of-control New York Mets in 1986.

He won with the underachieving Cincinnati Reds in 1995.

He won with the veteran, ego-driven Baltimore Orioles in 1997.

That should cover it.

Is Johnson like those good, solid, Dodger-values managers of the past?

You mean, the ones who haven't won a playoff game in 10 years?

Not even close.

Is he the sort of great communicator that used to rule Dodger Stadium?

You mean the sort that some players have walked over in taking control of the clubhouse and cheating us out of our ticket dollars?

Not even close.

Will he reestablish the tradition of long-tenured Dodger managers?

Not even close.

That Kevin Malone would be making this hire--a self-confident general manager hiring an equally self-confident manager--is a little like the canary hiring the cat.

I give them six months before feathers are flying.

I give Johnson three years before he's back on the bus.

But Johnson's history says they will be three unforgettable years.

Remember when Malone ventured into the local radio jungle recently and announced that there was a new sheriff in town?

He's right.

Only it's Davey Johnson.

In 25 seasons as a major league player or manager, Johnson has been with a losing team only four times. His biggest wins came with the 1986 Mets, whom he guided to a World Series championship.

His winning percentage of .575 is far better than most everyone else who managed at least 1,000 games.

And this, uh, well, uh, includes Tom Lasorda, who retired at .526.

Of course, most championship managers don't admit they drank too much (Mets), or are out of work for 2 1/2 years after leaving that championship job.

Most managers don't have to listen to their bosses call them "the insolent son of a bitch" (Baltimore's Peter Angelos) or direct a player's fine to be sent to a charity that employed his wife (Orioles again).

Johnson's career can perhaps best be summed up by the events of Nov. 5, 1997.

On the day he was voted American League manager of the year for nearly guiding the malcontent Orioles to the World Series, he faxed a letter to Angelos demanding that either his contract be extended or his resignation accepted.

Angelos, weary of Johnson's public criticism and maverick style, accepted the resignation.

One day, the best manager in the league.

The next day, unemployed.

Until today, when he should be embraced by a team that can no longer afford to base decisions on manners.

Would Davey Johnson work with a young and rebuilding team? No.

Would he work in a small market where the public wants their manager to be like the guy next door? Never.

Is it certain that he will work here with his young general manager and image-conscious owner? No.

But maybe if Fox and Malone stay out of his way, this gig will have a chance.

Johnson will not be afraid to bench his players and talk publicly about it.

He will not be afraid to scold his players and talk publicly about it.

While other Dodger managers have been so paranoid about criticism that it has affected their team's morale, Johnson can take it.

He has managed in New York, and won. He has managed for Marge Schott, and won. Enough said.

Finally, a big-city boss for a big-city team.

Raul Mondesi and Gary Sheffield should be no problem for a man who handled Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden.

Ismael Valdes will be easy compared to Mike Mussina.

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