The book: “Davey Johnson: My Wild Ride in Baseball and Beyond”
The author: Davey Johnson with Erik Sherman
How to find it: Triumph Books, 384 pages, $26.95, to be released May 15 but in stock at Amazon.com
The links: At Amazon.com, at the publishers website.
A review in 90-feet or less: How to manage a Baseball Hall of Fame write-in campaign, from the “Write A Book” division.
But first, one must admit a red flag is sent up when you have to start creating an argument to justify how someone — let’s take Davey Johnson — seems to have been passed over for the honor based on his managerial career achievements and stats.
Lately, new metrics have been introduced to push the re-thinking of players’ body of work.
(Heck, we even have Johnny Damon now set for “Dancing With the Stars” to boost his profile … or damage it?)
Biases also come into play. We have to make sure we didn’t miss something.
Three-hundred and eighty-four questionable pages later here, we’re still not sure if he belongs in.
But now we surely know what Johnson thinks.
“I don’t know of any manager who was as special as I was who kept getting the ax,” he writes in the preface. “All I ever did was successfully increase the value of the assets of any ballclub I ever worked for. … But I guess that’s why I’m doing this book, too. It’s all kind of weird, but also pretty interesting.”
Part of his “increasing the value of the assets” resume was a brief stint in L.A., where 20th Century Fox mogul Rupert Murdoch and right-hand man Bob Daly pushed through his hiring as the one to take the franchise on the field into the 21st Century.
For those who can’t recall this hazy period: In 1999, the Dodgers were 77-85 and third in the NL West. The next year, they were 86-76, second in the division.
Then Johnson was gone, a “he goes or I go” ultimatum because he insists he couldn’t get along with then GM/New Sheriff In Town Kevin Malone.
Duly noted in team history, Johnson, as the successor to Bill Russell (and Glenn Hoffman), the predecessor to Jim Tracy, ranks No. 21 in winning percentage (.503) out of 32 managers in franchise history.
So with this book, there are a couple reasons to even give it attention – the attempt to improve his status as a HOF candidate somewhere down the road, considering he cam up for special election last year and missed, and some sort of closure about what happened in L.A.
We can mine more info that shows even Bill James endorses Johnson for Cooperstown, based mostly on his winning the World Series with the Mets in 1986, and getting division titles in New York, Cincinnati, Baltimore and Washington. The Nationals’ gig came after an 11-year hiatus from the Dodgers experience, managing their until he turned 70. In between, he also handled Team USA the 2009 World Baseball Classic.
Johnson finished 10th all time in managerial winning percentage at .562 for those who had 1,000 victories, and 12th among those with at least 10 years of service. He also became only the second manager in MLB history (other than Billy Martin) to take four teams into the post-season. A lot of that is in his SABR bio as well as one the Baseball Hall of Fame crafted in case he got in.
It puts Johnson into this area of reasoning might also be used to campaign someday for Dusty Baker and Mike Scioscia as Hall of Fame managerial material. Some of it works, some of it …
When Johnson’s name was on a Baseball Hall of Fame Game Era Committee Ballot in late 2016 – it’s what used to be called the Veterans’ Committee – he needed 12 of 16 votes to get elected as part of the Class of 2017. All the committee would reveal is Johnson received fewer than five votes.
Conversely, we find a BleacherReport story from 2013 that insists Johnson “Will Be Remembered as an Overrated and Underachieving Manager.” That sentiment is out there.
You want to support his case, but in some ways, this book may not help. He often comes off as boastful, almost in a Pete Rose/Billy Martin sort of way, which isn’t necessarily a personality flaw for someone wired that way to success. It’s just maybe not the best PR look in a post-baseball career when you’re trying to win friends and influence votes. Or, maybe boasting and narcissism will get you to places. It’s an interesting strategy to embrace these days.
As for what happened with the Dodgers, it’s a mere seven pages.
Chapter 31, entitled “La La Land,” starts with Johnson saying he “was perfectly happy at home in Winter Park” in Florida until Murdoch came a callin’.
But as a “lifelong Dodgers fan who grew up in Brooklyn attending games at Ebbets Field,” he couldn’t ignore this opportunity. He signed the contract at Daly’s home just off the sixth hole at Riviera Country Club.
Then Malone started making moves that didn’t make sense to Johnson. Malone also brought in Tracy from the Expos as his main bench coach “against my wishes,” Johnson writes, after another Montreal connection, Felipe Alou, turned down coming to L.A. based on Malone’s prodding.
See where this is going?
In Johnson’s hindsight, Malone wasted too much money and years signing Kevin Brown instead of Randy Johnson as he “put this Dodgers team together without my input.” Johnson says he finally got Malone to trade for a big left-handed bat – Shawn Green, in Toronto – to go along with Eric Karros, Gary Sheffield and Adrian Beltre, plus this 24-year-old name Eric Gagne who Johnson now says he wanted to put into the bullpen for the 2001 season because he could see that as his future.
Derrick Hall, then the Dodgers senior VP of communications “and the smartest guy we had in the front office – a great baseball man,” Johnson writes, pleaded for him to stay when things were going sideways. Johnson says he knew Malone was pressing ownership to replace him with Tracy.
As it turns out, Johnson’s ultimatum led to Daly picking Malone. Johnson justifies it by saying it was just as well – his youngest daughter, Andrea, was very sick and needed him back in Florida.
“I loved wearing the Dodgers uniform while I could and there were no hard feels when it was over. Now I had a daughter to care for.”
In a sad turn, Andrea, who suffered from bipolar and schizophrenia issues, passed away after she was hospitalized from septic shock over medications. Johnson was, of course, devastated.
It doesn’t negate parts of the book where, for example, he calls then-Houston Astros’ Jerry Reuss as a “pussy lefthander” who “smoked him” with a pitch during a 7-0 game that injured his left shoulder and cost him a shot at winning the NL home run title in ’74. His daugher’s story would have been much more public in L.A. had he stayed, but that’s how things go.
There’s also a caption on a photo of him hitting a golf ball that rubs us a little weird: “Being a scratch golfer is just one of my passions away from baseball. I’ve also been a successful land investor, pilot, scuba diving instructor and mathematician. I believe in living life to the fullest.”
Without the Hall of Fame recognition, maybe he’s not fulfilled. Perhaps this book will get him there. Probably not.
How it goes down in the scorebook: Sorry, but no revisionist history for Johnson in trying to rewrite what happened to his Mets in the 1988 NLCS against the Dodgers, no matter how much he protests about Jay Howell’s pine-tar glove.
* Sherman, who co-authored this book with Johnson, wrote the 2016 book “King of Queens: Life Beyond Baseball with the ’86 Mets,” which Johnson wrote the forward for. Sherman also helped write the excellent “Out at Home: The True Story of Glenn Burke, Baseball’s First Openly Gay Player,” in 2015.
More new books out about managerial careers worth noting:
* “Try Not to Suck: The Exceptional, Extraordinary Baseball Life of Joe Maddon,” by Bill Chastain and Jesse Rogers, released March 15. The former Angels bench coach got a couple of shots to manage the team in Anaheim after some late-season firings, but somehow he wasn’t good enough to get picked that offseason?
Now do they regret it? That sucks.
* “Alou: My Baseball Journey,” by Felipe Alou with Peter Kerastos, released April 1. Here is an excerpt to coborate the Johnson story above about how the Dodgers wanted Alou to manager the Dodgers in 1999 and almost got him, starting on page 243:
“I wanted to stay in Montreal and even turned down an opportunity to leave after the 1998 season, which was another rough year when we had too little talent to contend with … I knew what was going on. I was too popular and too powerful in Montreal. I had embraced the city, and the city embraced me. …
“(As rumors of the team moving kept circulating), I soon learned it was the Los Angeles Dodgers who were interested in me, which didn’t surprise me since our old general manager Kevin Malone was now the Dodgers’ general manager. With permission granted, Malone and Dodgers team president and chief operating officer Bob Graziano came to my South Florida home that offseason. They didn’t come to interview me. They came with a contract in hand and with plane tickets for Lucie and me to fly to Los Angeles for the press conference. The contract sat on our coffee table, which included buying me a home in Southern California. I was about to sign it when it was suggested we hold off and instead sign the contract in Los Angeles during the formal press conference introducing me. We all agreed it seemed like a good idea.
“Working in the background, though, were some of the Expos’ minority owners who wanted me to stay … When (Mark) Routtenberg (president of Guess Jeans in Canada) heard the Dodgers were after me, he called my home, and with Malone and Graziano sitting in my living room, reminded me of my promise … I knew I owed them at least the courtesy of a conversion. Malone and Graziano understood …
“When Routtenberg and (Expos GM Jim) Beattie came to my door, I greeted them with a smile. ‘You know,’ I said, ‘my blood is already Dodger blue.’
“Routtenberg gave me a pained look as the color drained from his face and I felt sorry I greeted him that way …
” ‘You’re the last source of credibility we have left,’ (Routtenberg told him). He said a new ownership group was coming in … He promised … a stadium was also coming.
” ‘What are the Dodgers offering?’ Routtenberg asked.
“When I told him, his response was immediate: ‘We’ll match it.’
“And they did. … I was overwhelmed. I could feel my blood returning to Expos blue from Dodgers blue.
“When Malone and Graziano returned and I told them I had changed my mind, they were devastated. I’ll never forget the looks on their faces. Total shock and disbelief. I felt terrible. I had given those two men my word, and now I had gone back on it. In the months that followed I had a hard time sleeping. Going back on my word weighed heavily on me then, and it still does to this day.”
So there you go …