Poor Communication at Heart of Feud
By Mark Maske
At first glance, it was virtually unthinkable. How could Davey Johnson fax a letter to Baltimore Orioles majority owner Peter Angelos offering to resign as the team's manager and receive a fax from Angelos accepting his resignation on the same day that he was named the American League's manager of the year? Aren't the Orioles supposed to be savoring their first AL East title in 14 years?
To those in baseball who know Angelos and Johnson and how they interacted or, rather, how they didn't interact it wasn't all that surprising, however. In his years as a major league manager, Johnson has made few friends among his superiors even while he has won more regularly than any of his peers. Angelos, meanwhile, has gone through managers in rapid-fire succession. He has little regard for conventional baseball thinking, and is quick to act when he sees what he regards as an injustice even when others don't agree.
So it probably was inevitable that the professional relationship between Angelos and Johnson would end on less-than-pleasant terms and over some other issue if not over Johnson's decision in July to direct Orioles second baseman Roberto Alomar to pay a $10,500 fine to a charity for which Johnson's wife, Susan, serves as a paid fund-raiser.
"They're two very strong-willed people, and it's hard to get them to budge very far if they feel strongly about something," said Ray Miller, the Orioles' pitching coach last season who on Tuesday six days after Johnson resigned under pressure was named the club's manager. "I was sad to see it happen because I thought we had a good thing going. But I wasn't that surprised."
Those who were involved in the Johnson-Angelos feud are licking their wounds now. Angelos has received the bulk of the public criticism for Johnson's departure, and those around him say that he has been stung by the personal nature of the attacks. An attorney with his Baltimore-based law firm was in the court the other day when a juror approached the lawyer and called Angelos a no-good so-and-so. Many of the letters that Angelos and the Orioles have received have included scathing attacks upon Angelos. Angelos indicated last week that he has little to say publicly at this point about the circumstances surrounding Johnson's departure.
"We will move on, and I'm sure he will move on," Angelos said. "All parties are probably better off. The Orioles will continue to do everything within their power to field a championship team."
Johnson is one of four finalists for the vacant Toronto Blue Jays' managerial job, for which he interviewed for 2o hours on Wednesday in Phoenix. It's not a lock, though, that he'll work in baseball next year. Blue Jays officials seemed enamored with another of their finalists, Tim Johnson, before Davey Johnson became available. The Chicago White Sox have a managerial opening, but baseball sources say that they're eyeing New York Yankees coach Willie Randolph. It took Davey Johnson three years to land his second big league managerial position with the Cincinnati Reds after the New York Mets fired him in May 1990, and if he doesn't get the Toronto job he again could be on the outside looking in.
So why did he walk away from what he had called his dream job, forfeiting his $750,000 salary for 1998 in exchange for Angelos's pledge to permit him to pursue other jobs?
When Johnson resigned, Orioles General Manager Pat Gillick was attempting to negotiate a truce between the two men that would have permitted Johnson to retain his job. Angelos says that, when Johnson resigned, he still believed that a peaceful settlement could have been worked out. But such a settlement would have had to come on Angelos's terms, with Johnson admitting that he mishandled the Alomar fine. Johnson seemed willing to concede that he made an error in judgment but did not appear willing to say that he acted recklessly or maliciously. And Johnson said that he never was told the conditions under which he could have remained, because he couldn't get in touch with Angelos after a testy, 90-minute telephone conversation six days before Johnson's resignation.
"Davey basically couldn't take it any more," one Orioles official said.
Johnson said recently: "He said I was under review [for my handling of the Alomar fine]. I don't know what 'under review' means. I just wanted to know where I stood. Did ownership support me, or did ownership want to go in a different direction? Obviously I got my answer. It would have been nice to have been told I was doing a good job, but I just had to know one way or the other for the good of the organization and everyone involved. It had to be settled one way or the other."
It was a pairing that probably was doomed from the outset. On Opening Day 1998, Miller will be the Orioles' fourth manager in the five seasons since Angelos took over as the club's owner following the '93 season. Johnson had the highest winning percentage .575 among active managers, and his teams have finished in first or second place in each of his 10 full seasons as a major league manager. But that hasn't stopped him from being fired by the Mets and Reds and forced out by the Orioles. He can be brash, and he can be abrasive.
He has led his past three teams the '95 Reds and the '96 and '97 Orioles to the league championship series. But he has lost all three times, and he's lost two jobs in the process. Reds owner Marge Schott decided even before the 1995 season that Johnson would be replaced by Ray Knight following the season. Schott reportedly didn't like Johnson, in part because she disapproved of him living with Susan before the two were married.
"If you're just going to look at the bottom line, wins and losses, then Davey's your guy," one baseball executive who has worked with Johnson said late last week. "If the Orioles had won the World Series, none of this would have happened. But if you want a guy who's going to do every little thing you tell him and have a bunch of rules [for the players] and show up at the ballpark 10 hours before the game, Davey's not your guy."
Those familiar with Angelos's thinking say the owner regrets that he, in his view, bowed to public pressure and hired Johnson in October 1995. A committee of Orioles front-office executives had bypassed Johnson as a candidate the previous winter to recommend Phil Regan to succeed Johnny Oates, and Angelos had gone along with that recommendation. Regan was dismissed after one calamitous season and Angelos went with Johnson, the former Orioles player with the glitzy managerial re»sume».
Johnson and Angelos rarely, if ever, spoke thereafter. Miller met with Angelos for three hours on the day before his hiring was announced and already seems to have crafted more of a relationship with Angelos than Johnson ever had. Angelos's opinion of Johnson largely was formed by what he saw the manager saying on television or in the newspapers, and the owner often didn't like what he saw and read.
"You have to be careful," Johnson said when asked how a manager should deal with working for Angelos. ". . . You have to communicate with him, a lot more than I did."
Angelos sided with Bobby Bonilla when Johnson and Bonilla clashed early in the 1996 season, after Johnson tried to make Bonilla the regular designated hitter and Bonilla resisted. Angelos, team sources said, fumed whenever Johnson criticized or ridiculed Bonilla publicly. After Alomar spit in the face of umpire John Hirschbeck in September 1996, Angelos and Alomar maintained that Hirschbeck had provoked the incident with profane, insulting language toward Alomar. Johnson refused to enter that public debate in the aftermath of the spitting incident, and Angelos apparently held that against the manager as well.
Last winter, Angelos fired Pat Dobson as the Orioles' pitching coach and replaced him with Miller, and apparently was more than willing to let Johnson go if Johnson wanted to follow Dobson. Johnson, for a few days, refused to say whether he planned to return, but later maintained that his remarks on that subject were misrepresented. He also said that comments he made last summer when he told reporters in July in Minneapolis that he thought his job would be in jeopardy if the Orioles didn't reach the World Series also were misrepresented.
Angelos wasn't happy with all of Johnson's decisions in the dugout, either. He told associates he believed that Johnson made several mistakes during last year's loss to New York in the AL Championship Series, such as leaving Mike Mussina on the mound to face Cecil Fielder in the pivotal Game 3 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards (Fielder hit a two-run, eighth-inning home run to cap the Yankees' 5-2 triumph). Angelos apparently was mystified this fall when Johnson permitted right-handed reliever Armando Benitez to face left-handed-hitting slugger Jim Thome while veteran left-hander Jesse Orosco warmed in the bullpen during the eighth inning of Game 2 of the AL Championship Series. Benitez walked Thome to set up Marquis Grissom's three-run homer, which put the Cleveland Indians on their way to a six-game upset of the Orioles. That was the backdrop against which Angelos judged Johnson's handling of the Alomar fine.
The letter informing Alomar of his fine imposed by Johnson because Alomar skipped a team banquet in April and an exhibition game at Class AAA Rochester (N.Y.) during the all-star break in July directed Alomar to make a check payable to the Carson Scholars Fund. Susan Johnson is a paid fund-raiser for the charity. Susan Johnson earlier had spoken to Alomar and his agent, Jaime Torres, about possibly donating some of Alomar's salary for the five-game suspension that he served at the beginning of the '97 season for the spitting incident to Carson Scholars. Alomar donated that money to another charity, and officials for the Major League Baseball Players Association were prepared to argue at a grievance hearing that the Johnsons's actions represented a conflict of interest and called into question the motivation for the $10,500 fine. Angelos agreed.
Where do the Orioles go from here? They've promoted the easygoing, likable Miller to manager and they're retooling for what could be one final run in '98 for their aging core of players to capture a World Series crown. They say they're confident that if they're successful on the field next season, all of this fall's acrimony will be forgotten.
"It's Mr. Angelos's team, and he makes those decisions," Orioles outfielder Eric Davis said last week from his home in Los Angeles. "Of course it's going to have an effect. Any player wants to play for a manager like Davey Johnson. But people have to realize it's the players that determine whether you win or lose. We still have to go out and do our jobs as players, and if we do that it won't matter who's managing the team."
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