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Angelos-Johnson Saga

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  Hung Out to Dry, Johnson Heads for Cover

by Tony Kornheiser
Washington Post Columnist
Thursday, November 6, 1997; Page E1


Tony Kornheiser I trust Peter Angelos is happy now.

He got what he wanted. Davey Johnson resigned as manager of the Orioles yesterday. So he got Davey out, and saved the $750,000 on the last year of Davey's contract.

Angelos must feel like he won the quinella. I'll bet he was buying rounds for everybody on Eutaw Street last night.

So here's a belated toast to you, Peter:

You got rid of Davey,

And avoided his sass.

But wait till next year

When you look like an ... um, aardvark.

(I'd have thrown in asbestos, but the only rhyme I came up with was: arrest us.)

Next season, when you trot out your glistening team, with its $63 million payroll, and you wonder why it doesn't go wire-to-wire in first place like this one did, your answer will be two words long: Davey Johnson.

And you won't have to look far to find Davey: He'll be managing one of the teams that will be breathing down your neck. Maybe it will be Toronto, and when the Blue Jays come to Camden Yards, Davey will tell Roger Clemens to pull a Nuke LaLoosh, and stick a heater in your ear in the owner's box.

It's remarkable what Angelos has done to deconstruct the image of the Orioles in the past two years. He has gone out of his way to undermine the stature of Cal Ripken Jr., by publicly questioning Cal's leadership ability after the guy played in 2,300 straight games. He chased away Jon Miller, who's only the best play-by-play man in baseball. And now he's run off Davey Johnson, who not only has the highest winning percentage of any active manager, including Jim Leyland and Tony La Russa, but who, ironically, was named American League manager of the year yesterday, a few hours after he'd quit the O's.

Now for today's pop psych quiz: What do Cal, Davey and Jon Miller have in common?

They're beloved in Baltimore.

Is that the green-eyed monster lurking?

Davey Johnson isn't the easiest guy to get along with. You wouldn't want him living next door. He is abrasive and confrontational. He got in it with Cal over moving to third. And he got in it with Bobby Bonilla about DH-ing. Davey tends to manage from the position that he's smarter than you and everybody else in the room. His history is that he wears out his welcome rather quickly, and he's gone, and there's a certain relief.

But this is too quickly. For reasons unknown, Angelos seems to have hated Davey almost from the moment he hired him; even when he's praised Davey you can almost see a sneer on Angelos's lips. It's baffling, because Davey has been abundantly successful in his two seasons with the O's. Both times he has gone to the ALCS which hadn't been done in Baltimore since 1983. You would think an owner would be appreciative enough to carry Davey around in a chair.

But Angelos has appeared to enjoy dangling Davey publicly. In 1996, Angelos couldn't stop patting himself on the back after he countermanded Davey's and Pat Gillick's plan to jettison Bonilla and David Wells. After the season was over Angelos let it be known that he wasn't too pleased with Davey, and wasn't certain he wanted him back. You got the sense that Angelos was marking off his territory with his scent. Throughout this season Angelos was sparing in his praise of Davey, never offering a resounding vote of confidence especially after Davey stuck his nose near the cheese in July by saying he might have to get to the World Series to return next year. Davey may have been trying to play with Angelos's mind, but he wound up scrambling his own head.

A lawyer like Angelos knows when he has a witness on the run. And he had one in Davey. The coup de grace, Davey's clear error in assigning Robby Alomar's fine to a charity where Davey's wife Susan worked, is a cheap courtroom trick. First of all, the money was never handed over; Angelos himself has questioned the fine. Second of all, it is an easily forgiveable lapse in judgment. (Considering the way Angelos has lobbied to overlook every mistake of Alomar's, and make him into a victim, Angelos certainly could have cut Davey some slack here.)

But Angelos wanted Davey to pay and pay. Angelos trumpeted the "serious" nature of Davey's offense, like this was the Nanny Trial. Then, Angelos agonized, like Hamlet, whether he could forgive him. Finally, Angelos let it be known he wanted Davey to prostrate himself and make a complete apology (for everything in the last 70 years including selling atomic secrets to the Soviets) and maybe then, maybe then, he'd let Davey manage again. Meanwhile, Pat Gillick was tip-toeing around breathlessly saying he was "hopeful" the two men could work it out.

It was a tour de force in humiliation. Angelos, who's a Napoleonic egomaniac, hung Davey up like a pinata. He said to Davey, in essence: I want you to take off all your clothes and run bare-ass naked down Pratt Street. And if that sufficiently amuses me, I'll let you come back and work for me this one last year.

Angelos wanted to see how much stuff Davey would swallow. Davey let it be known he would apologize. But he wouldn't pull his underpants over his head. So he quit. He said he'd had trouble sleeping for days and he felt sick to his stomach about resigning. And Angelos, in a final patronizing gesture of contempt, released the text of a scolding letter he wrote Davey in accepting his resignation, which included this: "Your letter fails to recognize the real issue posed by your imposition and handling of the Alomar fine and your divisive statement to the press in July that unless the Orioles got to the World Series, you would not be permitted to return ... Your own actions and conduct, not mine, have produced the fulfillment of your prophecy."

Revenge is a dish best served cold.

Let's see what happens one of these cold Octobers.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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