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It's Code Day for Dodgers

Baseball: New manager Johnson, a proven winner, makes it clear that he means business.

October 24, 1998|JASON REID | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Davey Johnson is in control of the Dodgers, which was stressed during the new manager's introductory news conference Friday at Dodger Stadium.

Johnson plans to set the tone in the clubhouse, something recent Dodger field leaders have not done. He has been successful elsewhere by establishing his presence, and Johnson didn't waste time making that clear.

Things are going to change around Chavez Ravine, and Johnson expects to lead the way. He also wants the Dodgers to have fun.

At the very least, things should be interesting.

"This is a great opportunity for me, and it's something I'm very excited about," Johnson said. "To me, the Dodgers have always been the best organization in baseball, and they've always stood for something.

"I've had a lot of great moments in this game, and this one is right up there with the best of them. There's a lot of great talent on this club, and I'm really excited to get started."

Johnson, 55, signed a three-year contract worth about $1.3 million annually to become the Dodgers' fifth manager since the franchise moved to Los Angeles in 1958, and its 22nd overall. Johnson is expected to retain former manager Glenn Hoffman on his staff.

The package includes bonuses, tied to the ballclub's performance. Of course, that means the Dodgers must be successful.

The man who hired Johnson is confident they will be.

"Davey is a winner," General Manager Kevin Malone said. "He knows how to win and he expects to win.

"Guys will follow him, not only because of his talent and ability, but because he expects to win. Players respect that."

Dodger players agree.

"Obviously, it wasn't a secret that the Dodgers were going after managers with great track records, especially with the list of names they compiled of potential managers," first baseman Eric Karros said. "What Davey Johnson has accomplished can't be argued with. His record in the big leagues is as good, if not better, than the rest of the candidates they looked at."

Lack of chemistry has been among the main reasons the Dodgers haven't had success in the '90s. The club hasn't won a playoff game since 1988, though members of the former regime preferred to overlook that.

Malone said Johnson understands the importance of chemistry--and he knows how to create winning formulas.

"What we need in the clubhouse, pure and simple, is to win," Malone said. "When you win, it cures all the problems, and you have a good clubhouse when you win. Guys enjoy being around each other and there is one common goal and one common focus.

"You have harmony and togetherness when you win, and it's not there when you lose. Just his presence will change the clubhouse atmosphere, because he is a winner."

Just in case his presence isn't enough, Johnson relies on rules too.

Under Johnson, the Dodgers will adhere to dress codes and have guidelines about facial hair. Those rules were relaxed this season to accommodate outfielder Gary Sheffield after the seven-player Mike Piazza trade May 15.

Now, it's back to The Dodger Way.

"I don't think any of that stuff [jewelry, beards] helps you win," Johnson said. "I'm talking about no earrings, no beards, no ponytails, no torn jeans.

"I think it's important for image. I'm talking about acting like a team and dressing like a team. I don't think that's unreasonable."

When informed of Johnson's comments, many players asked, "Does Sheff know about this?"

"The bottom line is winning," second baseman Eric Young said. "I don't care if we go back to the old Dodger way, because that's what I grew up on.

"Davey knows what it takes to win, he's won before. If that's what helps him help us win, let's just do it."

Johnson has been among the game's biggest winners while managing the New York Mets, Cincinnati Reds and Baltimore Orioles in 10 full seasons.

He guided the Mets to the 1986 World Series championship, winning two division titles in New York, and also won division championships in Cincinnati and Baltimore.

In the process, Johnson has compiled a record of 985-727. His .575 winning percentage is the highest among active managers.

But Johnson has a reputation of being difficult to work with.

He walked away from the Orioles in '97 after winning the American League East division and being selected the AL manager of the year. He walked away from the Cincinnati Reds in '95 after leading them to the National League Central division title.

On Friday, Johnson explained his version of those breakups.

"I had a great experience in Cincinnati and a great ballclub, but that whole thing [his departure] was prearranged," Johnson said. "[Owner] Marge Schott and [General Manager] Jim Bowden and I decided that we were going to train Ray Knight for that job, I named him my assistant manager, so it wasn't like I was just leaving.

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