Davey Johnson: A lifetime of Baseball
With a combined MLB playing and coaching career spanning 48 years, few people have spent more time in Major League Baseball than Davey Johnson. As a player. Johnson won four AL pennants as the second baseman for the Baltimore Orioles, making four All-Star teams and earning three gold gloves. As a manager, Johnson won the 1986 World Series with the New York Mets. He also managed 5 different MLB teams and led the 2008 US Olympic Baseball team to a bronze medal. In his new book, Davey Johnson: My Wild Ride in Baseball and Beyond, Johnson shares some of his experiences from nearly five decades in the big leagues.
How did your childhood impact your eventual baseball career?
When you’re an army brat, you get moved all over the world. A lot of kids would rebel against that. But every time I went somewhere new, I’d do my best to use my talents and fit in. The main thing being an army brat taught me was to never go over the chain of command. I sometimes wish I wasn’t an army brat because it would’ve been easier for me to talk to ownership (as a manager) and have those tough conversations. I probably wouldn’t have been fired so many times.
In Chapter 7 of your book, you discuss losing the 1969 World Series to the Mets as a member of the Baltimore Orioles. What was that experience like for you?
It was all about momentum. We had a good team, we beat Seaver in the first game and then we lost four straight. Every conceivable factor went against us. Balls they (the Mets) hit flew away from us, and everything we hit went right to those guys. I hit the last out in the 1969 World Series, and I guess they (the Mets) liked me because of that, since they hired me later (1984).
What was it like getting to play in Japan in the 1970s in a time where not many American players got to experience that?
Back then, none of the Japanese ever came to America. It was only Americans going there. When I went over there, I played for the best team (Yomiuri Giants). It was like the Dodgers and Yankees combined into one team. They had incredible players like Sadaharu Oh. I got to play with some great Japanese players. The Japanese love their baseball, and I thought there were four or five players on my team alone that could have made it in the big leagues.
Looking back on your playing days, do you have a favorite team or season?
Believe it or not, I really don’t. I’m not the kind of person that lives in the past. I’ve always been a proponent of enjoy today and look forward to tomorrow. Every experience I had both playing and managing was a great experience for me.
How did your managerial career come about after your playing days ended?
I always had an interest in managing. When playing, I learned more from Earl Weaver about managing than anyone else, but you always learn something from everyone you play for. I was fortunate that after my playing days were through being given the opportunity to manage and be the assistant general manager for a team in the Inter-American League. We were really good. And from that experience, the Mets hired me. They had me in AA at first and that started my trek to the big leagues.
What went into building the 1986 World Series Champion Mets?
It was a process. In 1984, when I started, half the bullpen was not as strong as the other half. Luckily, Frank Cashen went out an improved that club. My first year, we got outscored by 18 runs, and we were 18 games over .500. Figure that out! The next year, we won 98 games but lost to the Cardinals. We could’ve caught them, but (Ron) Darling busted his thumb. The next year, I said before it started that we were going to dominate, and we did. We won 108 games and the World Series.
After you left the Mets, you went to Cincinnati, and you described that in your book as the most bizarre point of your managerial career. What made that experience so bizarre?
There were a lot of moments. I used to clean up the owner’s dog Schottzie’s poop on the AstroTurf. If we were losing a game, I’d get a message from Marge Schott who was just to the left of the dugout, “if you don’t pull this game out, your wife’s not going home with you”. She must have been referencing Schottzie’s licks and hugs or something. It was strange. She was a strange person.
With all the pace of play initiatives and changes to the game coming from the Commissioner’s office, do you have any thoughts on all that?
Everyone thinks baseball is a big show, a big theater. So many people are concerned about style and everything else. It’s not about that, it’s about playing the game of baseball the way it was meant to be played. It’s a fun game, get in there, play and compete.
Davey Johnson: My Wild Ride in Baseball and Beyondis available at Amazon.com.