First of all, is it Dave or is it Davey? I am fine with either one, I just want some consensus here.
I wrote Dave Johnson on the title card for this blog post because that is how it is written on the Topps Card. But for the rest of this posting, I will refer to him as “Davey” or “Johnson” because I always thought of him as Davey Johnson.
OK, the next and most interesting question is “What makes a Hall of Fame manager?” Davey Johnson is an interesting case study for what makes a Hall of Fame manager.
Now we know he wasn’t a Hall of Fame player. He had a fine career, playing 8 years with the Orioles in their glory days. He won Gold Gloves, All Star Game appearances and finished third in the 1966 Rookie of the Year vote.
That year the Orioles won the World Series, the first in the franchise’s history including their time as the St. Louis Browns.
He played in the 1969, 1970 and 1971 World Series, picking up another ring with the 1970 squad. After some down years and injuries, he returned to Philadelphia and played in the 1977 NLCS against Los Angeles.
In 1978, he hit a pair of grand slams as a pinch hitter, but he was done.
When his playing career ended, he began coaching. He was a manager in the Mets organization in the early 1980’s. Johnson was the skipper at Jackson and later the Triple A squad in Tidewater in 1983.
He was promoted to the major leagues as the Mets manager, probably because the team was having a major youth movement. Johnson had managed many of the young Mets in the minor leagues. Now he was ready to turn the team around.
In 1984, under Johnson’s leadership, the Mets had their first winning season since 1976 and the second 90 win season in franchise history.
Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry blossomed in 1984 and the Mets became the team of New York.
The 1985 squad won 98 games but narrowly missed the playoffs, falling just behind the Cardinals.
Then came 1986. The 108 win team became one of the most legendary and beloved (and reviled) teams in New York baseball history. That’s saying something. They fought and brawled behind the scenes but were the most dynamic and best team in baseball probably for the entire decade.
Of course the Mets won the World Series. You could not be here, 400 words into a blog post that I wrote if that was a spoiler for you.
Now the Mets nearly lost to the Astros. They were losing in the 9th inning of Games 3 and 6. The final game was a 16 inning affair where a swing of the bat by the Astros would have forced a 7th game showdown against Mike Scott.
And maybe you remember how the World Series ended up with the Red Sox. If the Red Sox got one more out in the 10th or held onto their 3-0 lead in Game 7, Johnson would have remembered for his odd managerial decisions and poor bullpen use.
In 1987, a scandal ridden and injury plagued Mets team won 92 games but again came up short to the Cardinals (who had no shortage of injuries themselves.)
The 1988 Mets team should have demolished the Dodgers in the NLCS. They had no holes on the team and even added a phenom with young Gregg Jefferies hitting up a storm. They won against LA in Hershiser’s first two starts and were cruising to a Game 4 victory that would have put them up 3-1.
Scioscia homered, tied the game and this time it was the Mets who lost a marathon game. The Dodgers won the Series in 7. That was the beginning of the end for Johnson with the Mets.
The team had an unnecessary facelift in 1989, dumping Dykstra, Wilson, Backman and many other beloved figures. They fell short of the playoffs again. Johnson was fired the next year with some saying his time with the Mets was underachieving.
Where his Hall of Fame discussion becomes interesting, however, is with his post Mets years.
Early in the 1993 season, he was brought in to replace Tony Perez as manager of the Reds. They were in first place in 1994 at the time of the strike and they won the new NL Central in 1995.
The Reds swept Los Angeles in the Division Series before being swept by the eventual World Champion Braves in the NLCS. THe Reds were a winner under Johnson.
But owner Marge Schott had made the decision before the post season that Ray Knight, the MVP of the World Series for Johnson’s 1986 Mets, was going to be the new Reds manager in 1996.
Thanks for the NLCS, now here is your pinkslip.
Johnson jumped to Baltimore and took the team to the post season for the first time in 13 years. In the 1996 Division Series, the Orioles and Roberto Alomar stunned the heavily favored defending AL Champion Indians. The Birds won in 4 and went on to New York.
The Yankees beat the Orioles with a little help from Jeffrey Maier but the Orioles finally brought October ball to Camden Yards.
In 1997, Johnson moved Cal Ripken from shortstop to third base because, well, it made the team better. The Orioles responded that season with 98 wins and a Division Title. They beat Seattle and faced a much weaker Cleveland squad in the ALCS.
It was a wild series involving extra inning games and controversial calls. The Indians would win Game 6 in extra innings, 1-0 and clinch the pennant. But Johnson would be named AL Manager of the Year that off season.
He would also be shown the door again. Johnson and Orioles owner Peter Angelos clashed and he was fired, despite leading two different teams to the League Championship Series in three straight seasons.
In 1999, he arrived in Los Angeles. The Dodgers, now owned by Fox, had spent lavishly and expected to win the NL West. Davey Johnson claimed that the “village idiot” could win with this team.
He would regret that quote. The 1999 Dodgers not only didn’t win the NL West (the Diamondbacks did in their second ever season.) They didn’t finish with a winning record, going 77-85.
The pressure was on Johnson in 2000 and while the Dodgers won more than they lost, they finished 11 games back of the Giants and far behind the Mets for the Wild Card.
Johnson was let go.
He didn’t get another managerial job until he was hired by Washington in 2011. The Nationals were expected to improve but not contend in 2012. Stephen Strasburg, coming off of Tommy John surgery, was going to pitch that year but, as they announced, would be shut down after he reached an innings cap.
Johnson’s Nationals surprised everyone by starting the season strong and not looking back. As the Phillies crumbled due to injuries, the Braves fell short of expectations, the Mets were a mess and the Marlins dealt with internal squabbles, the Nationals took advantage of a chaotic NL East.
The team won the Division with a 98-64 record. The city of Washington, who had no team between 1971 and 2005, had their first playoff team since the 1933 AL Champions.
They also had a problem. Against Davey Johnson’s wishes, management kept their plan of shutting down Strasburg. The Nationals starting pitching in the Division Series against the Cardinals bombed badly and the worn out bullpen blew the save in Game 5.
The Nationals had an astonishing meltdown with the series on the line. The defending champion Cardinals won the series and the Nats still wonder what would have happened if Strasburg had just one October start.
Johnson managed 2013 before retiring at age 70.
So is he a Hall of Fame manager or not? He took over losing teams with the Mets, Reds, Orioles and Nationals and quickly turned all of them into playoff teams.
The fortunes of the Mets, Reds and Orioles all plummeted after Johnson’s departure. If the Nationals got one more strike in 2012, he would have taken 4 teams to the League Championship Series.
He managed for 17 seasons was in the post season for 6 of those years.
Sure Davey Johnson only won one World Series. But that’s all Leo Durocher won. That’s all Bobby Cox won. That’s all Earl Weaver won.
And yes, the Mets squad should have won at least another pennant. But remember when he arrived in New York, the team was a consistent loser. His time changed the mentality so much that NOT winning the World Series was considered to be a let down.
But that title seems to be more of one lost by the Red Sox than won by the Mets in terms of its legacy.
I would have no issue with Johnson being in Cooperstown. I love the managers, like Dick Williams, who are basically Johnny Appleseeds of post seasons wherever they go.
If he won a pennant in Cincinnati, Baltimore or Washington, this would be a much easier question to answer. But for now, it is interesting to ponder.
As for the Dave or Davey question, we may NEVER get to the bottom of that.
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