- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 11, 2005

BALTIMORE — Davey Johnson was trying to cope with a tragedy that made no sense to him and might never make sense.

The former major league manager was distraught over the recent loss of his 32-year-old daughter, Andrea, a former professional surfer who died after suffering from schizophrenia.

“It was devastating,” Johnson said in a telephone interview from his home in Winter Park, Fla. “She was going to travel with her mother to Texas to visit her grandmother on the day she died. It was an awful tragedy.”

Many people offered comfort with phone calls, cards and flowers. One show of support particularly touched Johnson: flowers from one of his former bosses, Orioles owner Peter Angelos.

“I got a beautiful arrangement of flowers from Mr. and Mrs. Angelos,” Johnson said. “I can’t tell you how touched I was by that. He and I didn’t leave on such great terms, and that kind of made me feel better.”

Angelos’ history with his managers was rehashed over and over in the wake of his firing of Lee Mazzilli. It was reported again that Angelos fired Johnson after the 1997 season.

Johnson led the Orioles to a wire-to-wire, 98-win, first-place finish in the American League East that season, followed by a second straight trip to the American League Championship Series. He was named AL Manager of the Year.

But Peter Angelos did not fire Davey Johnson. Johnson quit.

You could argue that Johnson, considering the tension between the two, was forced out or that he would have been fired eventually. But the fact is that Johnson still had a year remaining on his three-year contract and resigned even after general manager Pat Gillick went to Florida to convince him to stay.

Johnson wouldn’t. He managed the Los Angeles Dodgers for two seasons afterward, was fired there and has not been hired since although he was one of the most successful managers of his time. His record of 1,148-888 (.564) over 14 seasons includes a World Series championship and only one full losing season.

He generally is recognized as one of the best in the game at handling pitching, a key component for any manager. He was egotistical, brash and clashed with his bosses at every stop, but no one could deny that he was a winner.

And, in turn, Johnson doesn’t deny that Angelos is a capable person.

“Mr. Angelos is a very smart man,” Johnson said.

Angelos might be a brilliant lawyer but, to be kind, that brilliance has not shone through in baseball.

There have been moments when he has been smart about his team, such as when he hired Johnson after the 1995 season. Maybe he’ll have another flash of brilliance and hire him again. Stranger things have happened.

Sam Perlozzo came to Baltimore as one of Johnson’s coaches in 1996, and Tuesday night he made his home debut as the Orioles’ interim manager. Perlozzo should have gotten the job after Mike Hargrove was fired, instead of the ridiculous decision Angelos made to hire Mazzilli. Perlozzo had earned the shot.

But that was then. Timing, as they say, is everything, and Perlozzo’s shot may have arrived at the wrong time. He will have to do very well — certainly better than .500 — in these last two months of the season to get the job permanently.

Angelos likely will feel the need to make a big splash when he hires a manager for 2006 and beyond. Part of the reason for that is the presence of the Washington Nationals.

The buzz for the Nats heading into next season just might be even bigger than it was this year. There will be new owners in place who likely will spend on free agents in order to make a strong first impression on fans.

The Orioles will have to compete with that buzz, and I fear that Perlozzo, unless he pulls off an amazing run, won’t suffice. Bringing back Davey Johnson would create all kinds of drama and anticipation at Camden Yards again.

Johnson, 62, has had a rough couple of years. He was very sick last year with stomach problems and had several operations. His weight dropped to 145 pounds before he was finally diagnosed at the Mayo Clinic with a ruptured appendix.

“My body had been walling it off,” he said. “They said I was lucky that my body did that — it protected me from more infection.”

He has since recovered. His weight now is 190, the same as it was when he managed in Baltimore.

“I have been working out for the past six months and am feeling great,” Johnson said.

He also has been working with Vantage Sports, an agency representing baseball players and golfers, as a consultant. He is a talented golfer who plays in a number of celebrity tournaments.

“I played the other day with Marcus Allen as my partner, and we beat Herb Williams and George Gervin in a two-man scramble,” Johnson said. “Then we beat Ahmad Rashad and Joe Pesci.”

So two hours before the news arrived that Mazzilli had been fired, I asked Johnson if he would consider managing again, without referring to any job in particular.

“I wouldn’t rule it out,” he said. “I really have enjoyed my time off. There are other things in life.”

But …

“I am getting a little bored,” he said. “It would have to be someone I know and respect.”

Maybe someone who is sometimes a very smart man.

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