Johnson Quits, Ending Angelos Feud
By Mark Maske
Johnson, 54, was baseball's winningest active manager, and he guided the Orioles to consecutive appearances in the AL Championship Series in his two seasons at the helm. But his relationship with Angelos was tumultuous virtually from the outset, and he offered his resignation to Angelos by fax yesterday rather than continuing to wait to see whether Angelos would fire him because Johnson directed Orioles second baseman Roberto Alomar in July to pay a $10,500 fine to a charity with which Johnson's wife is involved.
A little more than two hours after Angelos accepted his resignation, Johnson received his first manager of the year award in the annual voting conducted by members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.
Angelos said from his Baltimore law office: "I think maybe it could have worked out. But I think he's probably better off this way and we're probably better off. I didn't want it to be said I was going to hold onto him until there were no jobs left elsewhere [and then fire Johnson]. I was going to hold onto him until I could make a decision. I was thinking we could work it out, but apparently we couldn't. Maybe he has somewhere else he wants to go."
Angelos accepted Johnson's resignation via fax, meaning that the two men ended their professional relationship without having spoken since a testy, 90-minute telephone conversation last Thursday. Angelos agreed to allow Johnson to pursue jobs with other major league teams-Johnson likely will be a candidate for managerial vacancies with the Toronto Blue Jays and the expansion Tampa Bay Devil Rays. In exchange, Johnson forfeited next season's $750,000 salary. Orioles pitching coach Ray Miller is the leading candidate to replace Johnson as the team's manager, club sources said.
In his letter to Johnson, Angelos said that Johnson's conduct in his handling of the Alomar fine was not "appropriate." Angelos wrote in the letter: "In my considered judgment, it would clearly be in the best interests of the Orioles organization for a change of field manager for 1998."
Angelos also wrote to Johnson: "I absolutely reject your contention [in Johnson's letter to Angelos] that my strongly held objection to your directing the Alomar fine be paid to a charity by which your wife is employed was intended 'more for public relations than mere disapproval.' I can assure you that my disapproval is deeply felt and consistent with what I insist be appropriate conduct on the part of all Orioles' employees. It strikes me, as field manager, you should have been much more sensitive to such situations and to have avoided even what you concede 'could create the appearance of impropriety.' "
Orioles General Manager Pat Gillick and others had attempted to negotiate a truce, and some team officials seemed optimistic Friday that Angelos and Johnson would issue a joint statement saying that Johnson — who had one season remaining on a three-year, $2.25 million contract with the Orioles — would return. Johnson wrote in his letter to Angelos yesterday that he should have permitted Angelos to determine what would happen with Alomar's fine money, and he said he was prepared to make that concession as part of an agreement with Angelos by which Johnson would have remained with the club.
Johnson said he attempted to call Angelos on Tuesday night and tried to contact the owner again yesterday morning. When he was unsuccessful, Johnson said, he sent his resignation offer to Angelos.
"I just decided rather than dragging this out any more, I'd send him this letter," Johnson said. "I told him I felt like I didn't do anything improper, but I should let him decide where the money goes. As the owner of the team, he should decide. I told him if he wanted to make a managerial change, I wouldn't stand in his way. I'd make it easy for him. I'd resign. It was his choice. He sent a letter back to me saying he accepted my resignation.
"I figured a week was enough. There was something there that was not going to go away, and I figured I'd give him the choice. It's best if we all go our separate ways."
In his letter to Johnson, Angelos said that Johnson made an "ill-advised" and potentially "harmful" statement during the summer when he told reporters that he believed his job would be in jeopardy if the Orioles failed to reach the World Series. Johnson said those comments were misrepresented.
Johnson had the highest winning percentage (.575) among active managers, and his teams have finished in first or second place in their division in each of his 10 full seasons as a big league manager. But that didn't prevent him from being fired by the New York Mets and the Cincinnati Reds.
He inherited an Orioles team that hadn't reached the postseason since 1983, and led the club to 186 regular season victories over the past two years. This year, the Orioles spent every day of the regular season in first place en route to their first AL East title in 14 years, but were upset by the Cleveland Indians in six games in the ALCS.
Johnson and Angelos clashed last winter after the Orioles lost to the New York Yankees in the ALCS. Angelos ordered the firing of Pat Dobson as the team's pitching coach and replaced him with Miller, and Johnson briefly declined to say whether he planned to return to the club this year.
This year, Johnson fined Alomar for missing a team banquet in April and the Orioles' exhibition game at Class AAA Rochester (N.Y.) in July. He drew Angelos's ire for failing to consult with the owner before imposing the fine, and for directing Alomar to pay the fine to the Carson Scholars Fund, for which Susan Johnson works as a paid fundraiser.
By the time Johnson learned around noon yesterday that he had been named the AL manager of the year, he already had sent his resignation letter to Angelos. Johnson's successor will become the fourth manager to work for Angelos — following Johnny Oates, Phil Regan and Johnson — since Angelos officially took over as the club's owner following the 1993 season.
"I'm sorry it didn't work out," said Johnson, a former Orioles player. " ... I wrestled with this for two weeks. ... I didn't know when I woke up [yesterday] morning that I wouldn't be managing the Orioles next year. It's been kind of a hectic day."
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