MINNEAPOLIS, MAY 29 -- Tired of waiting for a talented club to play as expected, the New York Mets today in Cincinnati fired Davey Johnson as manager and named third base coach Bud Harrelson his replacement for the rest of the season.

Johnson, who led the Mets to the 1986 World Series championship, a second National League East title in 1988 and a 575-395 record from 1984 through 1989, became the first major league manager to be fired this season. The ax fell with New York, picked by many to return to division supremacy, at 20-22 and in fourth place, six games out of first. They dropped to seven games back after losing 2-1 to the Reds tonight. (See NL roundup, B4.)

"I thought the club was underachieving and needed to go in a new direction," General Manager Frank Cashen said during a news conference in Cincinnati. "Part of the blame is certainly mine. It's not all Davey's."

As Cashen spoke, Johnson already had headed home to Florida.

Cashen has said he would rather get rid of players a year too early than a year too late, but he and the rest of the Mets front office have been under fire for trading or releasing players who, while not always productive, were considered the heart of the club.

The club began feeling the absences of those players last season, when it finished 87-75, second by six games to the Chicago Cubs. And Johnson is said to have come close to being fired before this season. Although he was retained, two of his coaches, Bill Robinson and Sam Perlozzo, were released without his input.

When the Mets struggled at the start of this season, Johnson's relaxed managerial style and handling of the Mets' starting pitching staff -- considered one of the majors' best -- began to be questioned.

"I wasn't given a reason for my dismissal . . . and I didn't ask for one," Johnson told the Orlando Sentinel at Orlando International Airport tonight. He professed to having just one regret: "I would've liked to have met with the ballplayers to say goodbye, but they didn't want me to stay around."

Johnson seemed to sense the inevitable last week when he told the New York Daily News: "If we don't play up to expectations, then Frank {Cashen} has no choice. There is no choice. You don't fire the players. That's just baseball."

He also said if he was dismissed "there will be no hard feelings."

"Sometimes things happen for the best," he said. "But tell you what, if I'm gone, people will start to appreciate me after I've left."

Johnson's and the Mets' 1984-89 record was baseball's best over that period by 29 1/2 games over the second-best team, Toronto. They never finished lower than second.

Under terms of his three-year contract, extended after the 1988 season, Johnson will be paid through 1991 and earn $500,000. He also has the option to continue working for the Mets but it's unlikely he will.

Harrelson, 45, was an excellent-fielding, light-hitting shortstop for the Mets from 1966 to 1977. A fiery player, he probably is best known for the fight he had with the Reds' Pete Rose in the 1973 NL Championship Series. He retired as a player in 1980 from the Texas Rangers, managed in the Mets' farm system and has been a Mets coach since 1985.

He said he'll be strict as manager.

"If I had to let Davey go," Cashen said, "it's great to have somebody of Bud Harrelson's stripe in the organization."

"It's always the manager that goes," pitcher Dwight Gooden said.

.............. ALL WITH METS ...........

Year ....... W-L ....... Pct. ..... Pos.

1984 ...... 90-72 ...... .556 ...... 2nd

1985 ...... 98-64 ...... .605 ...... 2nd

1986 ..... 108-54 ...... .667 ...... 1st

1987 ...... 92-70 ...... .568 ...... 2nd

1988 ..... 100-60 ...... .625 ...... 1st

1989 ...... 87-75 ...... .537 ...... 2nd

1990 ...... 20-22 ...... .476 ...... 4th

Tot. .... 595-417 ...... .588 ....... --

1986: Won World Series.