With the All-Star game at Citi Field fast approaching, it felt like a good time to stir the memories of former Mets manager Davey Johnson, who was in town herding his Washington Nationals this weekend. Johnson, a four-time All-Star himself (1968-70, ’73), was, of course, the skipper of the 1986 World Champion Mets when the longtime tradition tabbed him to helm the National League squad in 1987.
Johnson’s NL squad in ’87 found runs hard to come by, but they held firm until they were able to push two scores across the plate in the 13th inning and secured an All-Star shutout, 2-0. In fact, Johnson has always been associated with All-Star victories, as his NL teammates won all four games when he was on the roster in the ‘60s and ‘70s.
“Back then, just like it is now,” Johnson said proudly, “is always a great honor.”
Johnson’s best recollection of that game in ’87 naturally involved his pitchers. “I remember the game was out in Oakland, and the last guy to pitch for us was Sid (Fernandez) at the end of the game (who got the save).
“I had used the great Cubs closer, Lee Smith, for three innings (the longest stint by any NL hurler that night), and I guess I didn’t care about him (picture Davey smiling broadly as he said this). I needed Sid for the second half (of the Mets’ season).”
Hey, a win is a win, no matter how you get it. “We won the game, so that was pretty good.”
Johnson’s memories of his All-Star appearances are a little fuzzy, perhaps purposely, as he collected only one hit in his times at-bat, often filling in for Hall of Famers such as Rod Carew late in the game, and in ’69, he didn’t even make it into the game, which is a fate that befell many All-Stars in the days when sometimes a Willie Mays or a Hank Aaron would play the entire game.
Interestingly, Johnson’s teammates in the ’73 included eight future Hall of Famers. The AL squad placed nine future Hall of Famers onto their boxscore.
It’s always a juggling act for any All-Star manager these days of trying to win and trying to place every player into the boxscore.
“I remember I had Pedro Guerrero, just about the best hitter in the league at the time, and I didn’t start him. I gave him only one pinch-hit. I was trying to do him a favor cause I knew he had a little knee problem. But he was mad at me for a long time after that.”
Guerrero lined out in the tenth against Tom Henke in his only at-bat, pinch-hitting for Steve Bedrosian.
“Managing the game is very difficult cause you’re trying to win the game and trying to get everybody into the game,” Johnson emphasized. “They made the trip, so you want to get everybody in, but at the same time you want to pay service to your league and to the team.”
Putting the roster together is also a way to get yourself into trouble.
“There’s always going to be guys who deserve to be there and who you just couldn’t squeeze onto the team.”
As it turned out, Johnson ended up managing six future Hall of Famers – Ryne Sandberg, Andre Dawson, Mike Schmidt, Gary Carter, Ozzie Smith, and Tony Gwynn. The AL team featured six future Hall of Famers as well – Rickey Henderson, Wade Boggs, Dave Winfield, Cal Ripken, Jr., George Brett, and Kirby Puckett.
Johnson, 70, will join Mets manager Terry Collins as the two baseline coaches for this year’s All Star game at Citi Field on July 16.
Both staffs will have a definitive Mets flavor. As is the custom, the managers of the World Series the previous year run the squads, and have choice over selecting two other current managers as coaches. San Francisco’s Bruce Bochy, himself a former Met (1982), went with Collins and Johnson. AL skipper Jim Leyland, chose ex-Mets Robin Ventura and John Gibbons.
“I’m looking forward to just being on the bench and helping out Bochy,” added Johnson, “and watching him squirm trying to win and trying to get everybody in.”