Baseball fans should update their library with Davey Johnson’s new autobiography “My Wild Ride in Baseball and Beyond” (Triumph Books) written with Erik Sherman.
A four-time All-Star and two-time Manager of the Year, Johnson had a fascinating baseball career, winning pennants as a second baseman with the Orioles, playing with Hank Aaron in Atlanta and Sadaharu Oh in Japan, and taking four franchises to the playoffs as manager.
While turning losing teams into playoff teams, Johnson was fired from several managing jobs after strained relationships with front office executives and owners.
Johnson comes across as many things: intelligent, funny, a possible Hall of Fame manager. Modest would not be one of them.
Not wasting any time, Johnson writes in the preface: “Would I have liked to have managed the Mets forever? Yes. The Reds? Certainly. The Orioles? Absolutely. And in all those cases, right after I was shown the door, their teams went right down the drain.”
By the time Johnson was hired by Frank Cashen to manage the Mets after the 1983 season, his place in team lore was cemented by making the last out for the Orioles in the 1969 World Series. Johnson, after managing in the Mets minor league system, led the 1984 team to 90 wins after the team finished 68-94 the year before.
The 1986 team won the World Series over Boston, after rallying in Game 6. Boston manager John McNamara had been a minor league catcher in the early 60s when he called for an inside fastball that hit a young Davey Johnson in the face. As Johnson ran on the field as Ray Knight scored the winning run in Game 6, he looked into the Red Sox dugout and thought about how he finally got his revenge on McNamara, also taking joy in the fact that his counterpart never lived down replacing Bill Buckner with Dave Stapleton.
A Mets dynasty was not to be. Fans might wonder about Game 4 of the 1988 NLCS, when New York was about to take a commanding 3-1 lead over the Dodgers until Mike Scioscia hit a two-run homer off Dwight Gooden. Many fans feel Randy Myers should have been summoned to close out the win. Johnson says he never thought about putting Myers in. “He had all the confidence in the world in Gooden,” Sherman said.
The other crucial decision of the series was starting a fully rested Ron Darling in Game 7 over Gooden. Darling failed to make it out of the second inning while Gooden pitched several innings of shutout relief. Johnson criticizes the hypocrisy of second-guessing his leaving Gooden in too long and then second-guessing his decision not to pitch him on short rest.
The 1989 team finished in second place with an 87-75 record, the first time he failed to win 90 games. When Cashen fired two of Johnson’s coaches, Johnson writes that he should have resigned then instead of returning for the 1990 season.
“I think he still regrets it to this day,” Sherman said.
For Sherman, the up-and-down relationship between Cashen and Johnson was the most surprising part of the book. Cashen and Johnson knew each other since Baltimore, and Johnson had input on trades early on. The relationship was not strong after 1986. “Johnson got credit for it,” Sherman said. “Especially then, general managers weren’t nearly involved as they are now. Managers got the bulk of the credit.”
Johnson was fired 42 games into the 1990 season, and then didn’t manager for several seasons, due in part to rumors about Johnson’s alleged drinking and infidelities. He managed the Reds from 1993-95, working for Marge Schott, who would occasionally rub hair from her dead dog on players and coaches.
He was replaced by Ray Knight, despite getting the Reds to the 1995 NLCS.
There a Baltimore homecoming as he was hired to manage the Orioles. “Every job he ever went to, he felt like that was it for him,” Sherman said.
Johnson reached the ALCS in both years managing Baltimore, but left because of problems with owner Peter Angelos, quitting on the day he was named 1997 AL Manager of the Year.
An early pioneer of sabermetrics before it had a name, Johnson was not afraid to make risky decisions. Facing Randy Johnson in the 1997 ALDS, Johnson benched Rafael Palmeiro and Roberto Alomar in favor of Jerome Walton and Jeff Reboulet, with Reboulet hitting a homer in the clinching game. “Those are the types of moves that get you fired if they don’t work, but he didn’t care,” Sherman said.
He would manage the Dodgers for two seasons, and then end his career with the Nationals, leading them to the 2012 NL East title.
The autobiography gives good insight into the life of one of the game’s interesting people, and also explains some behind the scenes workings and what really happened between Johnson and players and owners.
“One of the things this book does, is it sets the record straight,” Sherman said.