“We had every star you could think of,” recalls Ripken, who had to share shortstop with Ozzie Smith. “At the first team meeting, Davey said, Let’s go over the signs. . .Aw, the hell with it. Let’s not have any signs.’ “
“And no take’ signals, either.”
“On 3-0, you’re all swinging.”
“Anytime you want to steal, then steal.”
Plenty of baseball officials, up to the commissioner’s office, were worried, Ripken says. “They figured we weren’t taking it seriously enough. They were wrong. We played together great . . . Davey had jacked our confidence sky-high . . . On the whole tour I think we lost one game.”
“I also told ‘em, I’m not smart enough to figure out which of you guys should start and who should sit on the bench,’ “ says Johnson. “ So half of you will play the first 4 1/2 innings one day. The next day, the other guys will play the first half of the game.’ “
Johnson’s absence of strategy was really psychology. He’d played two years in Japan at the end of his career, and he’d observed that the utterly regimented Japanese were intimidated by the arrogance and spontaneity of ex-big leaguers. So, given a team of true superstars, Johnson cranked up their egos and their creativity to the max. Boys, let’s blast these guys into the Pacific. Do it loose, do it laughing, do it with no rules. Do it in defiance of all the Japanese manners and mores. It’ll just blow their minds.
And it did.
Davey Johnson is everything the Baltimore Orioles have not had in a manager in the 1990s. Thank God. The days of paralyzing anxiety and terminal niceness are over at last. Johnson is as cocky as Johnny Oates was humble; he’s as salty and up to speed as Phil Regan was grandfatherly and out to lunch.
In the Orioles clubhouse this spring, the rock-and-roll is turned up loud. The training table includes chocolate doughnuts. Last season, Johnson’s Reds often had a pregame feast of Popeye’s fried chicken with beans and rice. But they won their division, didn’t they? Card games and cellular phones are okay, too. Dress code? Yeah, sure, it would be a good idea to be dressed. Johnson’s view of managing Deion Sanders? “Loved him.” In February, the Birds worked hard and fast, then skedaddled to the golf course and beach.
Life’s too short for Davey Johnson to waste time running some dang six-hour workout in February just to prove he can punch a time clock. He might want to fly his plane; he’s a licensed pilot. He might want to scuba dive; he’s a licensed instructor. He might want to sell some Florida real estate; he has his license for that, too, and made his first million -- long ago -- from land deals, not baseball. He might want to check out a new computer; he has a degree in mathematics from Trinity University in Texas and knows Laplace transformations as well as earned run averages. This guy attended Johns Hopkins in the off-season . . . well . . . just to learn. Why, Davey might even want to play golf; a couple of years ago, his handicap got to plus three, which means his average score was three under par. PGA Senior Tour material? Maybe.