A Graceful Exit That's 'So Damn Sad'
By Thomas Boswell
Last week, Johnson called the Oriole owner. They talked. And yelled at each other some, too. Aired their differences. Johnson hoped it would help. That's how it works in the clubhouse. You got a problem with me? Spit it out. Then work it out.
Johnson took a chance on Angelos. When challenged, maybe he'd respond like a big leaguer. Sometimes, after the venting is finished, a friendship develops — even a strong one. Sometimes you just agree to disagree and keep on fussing, like Earl Weaver and Jim Palmer. Either way, you respect each other and pull in the same direction.
Instead, all Johnson heard from Baltimore was silence. So, Johnson had his answer. Angelos wanted Johnson to resign as manager. If the Orioles fired him, they'd have to pay Johnson $750,000 next season.
"Usually, after Davey goes fishing, he looks great. But he woke up this morning and he looked so bad," said Johnson's wife, Susan, yesterday. "He said to me, 'what are we doing with our life?' "
So, they decided. Nobody wants to be where they are not wanted. Especially if they are wanted almost everywhere else. "I'll make it easy for him," Johnson said. He wrote to Angelos: "I offer my resignation."
On the same day Johnson was named American League manager of the year by the baseball writers, his resignation was accepted by Angelos.
"I'm so proud of my husband. But it's so damn sad," said Susan Johnson. "Is it just us who feel this way, or is this the most ludicrous thing anybody ever heard of?"
In his letter, Johnson even ate half a crow in hopes it might keep him the Orioles' manager.
He said he regretted "the appearance of impropriety" in directing a $10,500 fine of Roberto Alomar to a charity for which his wife had, since August, been a paid employee.
But he didn't grovel. If the Orioles wanted him, they had enough of an apology to hang their hats on. If they didn't want him, he wasn't going to sell out his wife's good name to hold on to a job.
"I still don't think it was a big impropriety," he said yesterday, adding later that his wife worked for free for several charities. "I wasn't thinking about my wife having a job there ... I should have."
For weeks, Johnson had tried to get Angelos to "endorse me, support me, or let me go." None of those options, however, let the Orioles out of that $750,000 obligation. "When I offered to quit, it didn't take long to get that answer," said Johnson, laughing ruefully.
Johnson took the high road. And it cost him the one job in baseball that he wanted more than any other. Johnson is an Oriole — in his own mind, anyway. He played seven seasons for them, made three all-star teams, and started in four World Series. In two seasons as Orioles manager, he twice reached the American League Championship Series.
Would it have been important if one more person had appreciated your work? Johnson was asked on a telephone news conference. "That would have been nice," he said, "but it wasn't forthcoming."
Johnson was respectful of Angelos yesterday. He doesn't want to blackball himself. He's been down that road. He won a world title as manager of the '86 Mets, but couldn't get a job for three years after a bitter firing and public feud with General Manager Frank Cashen. "I'll be forever indebted to Peter Angelos for giving me a chance to manage the Baltimore Orioles," Johnson said. "You have to have a lot of communication with him. I probably could have done more of that with Peter."
Though the Blue Jays may want to hire him almost instantly, Johnson is still gun-shy from his post-Mets experience. In one respect, he's different than almost every other manager of his generation. He doesn't come to ownership with hat in hand. He doesn't act like he's lucky to be a big league manager and could never get any other job half so grand. He's an educated, broadly accomplished man. And he carries himself that way. It has cost him.
So, yesterday, he showed the side of himself that did not exist a decade ago — the part that's willing to compromise, the part that Angelos did not choose to make use of. "I'm unemployed. I wish I had another [managing] job lined up. But I don't," said Johnson. "I'm open [to offers]. I'd hop on a plane in a minute."
The reason Angelos got rid of Johnson is so clear it requires little analysis. It's as identical to announcer Jon Miller's departure last season as two episodes could be. An employee asked to be treated with the respect — in contractual terms — that his performance merited. In response, Angelos orchestrated the exodus of each. After Miller left, Angelos claimed Miller wanted to leave, contrary to appearances and Miller's amazed protestations. Yesterday, Angelos said of Johnson, "It seems to me he wanted to move on." By way of comment, let it be noted that Angelos has one of the rare law firms in which there are no partners. It's just his name on the door.
Despite his surface anxiety, Johnson knows that he'll be at the top of almost every managerial list. He's going to land in the catbird's seat, just like Miller. That's why Johnson was worried not about himself yesterday, but about the Orioles.
"I wish the guys the best," he said. "After I go fishing for a few days, I'll call some of them." What about outfielder Brady Anderson, who has told some privately that, if Johnson goes, he won't re-sign with the Orioles because he doesn't want to go through more Oriole turmoil?
"I told Brady, 'Take care of yourself. I'll be back. Or I'll be gone. Don't let it influence you,' " said Johnson.
What about the next Oriole manager? "I think they'll offer it to [coach] Ray [Miller] or Rick [Down]. Ray had the best year of anybody but Peter will make that decision."
Johnson paused, thinking about the craziness he was leaving behind. "I don't want to endorse anybody," he said. "Then they got no chance."
© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company