Like a gift from the Baseball Gods, the ball fell from the heavens into the glove of left fielder Cleon Jones. Prayers were answered. The impossible dream became reality. As the champagne was sprayed in the clubhouse and the field was torn up by adoring fans, no one could have imagined it would take another 17 years for a championship to return to Shea.
October 16, 1969. October 27, 1986. Two men were on the field for BOTH of these historic days but from opposite perspectives. One was SS Buddy Harrelson, who in 86 was a Mets coach. The other was named Dave Johnson. It was Johnson who made the final out in Game 5. It was Davey who guided the Mets to their 86 title.
Born in Orlando, FL on January 30, 1943, David Allen Johnson made his major league debut on April 13, 1965 as a 2bman for the Baltimore Orioles. As a player, Davey was adequate at best. His career batting average was 261, 136 career HR’s, 609 RBI’s, 1252 hits. But the game of baseball was different when Johnson played. Second base was not a power position. It was more important to have a good glove. In a 13 year career that saw him play for the Orioles, Braves, Phillies, Cubs and even 2 years for the Yomiuri Giants in Japan, Davey was solid. Rock solid. So much so, teammates nicknamed him ‘Rox.’
He was a 2 time World Champion, 4 time All-Star and winner of 3 Gold Gloves. Offensively, his best year was 1973. He hit 43 HR’s that season, 42 came as a 2nd baseman (one as a pinch hitter.) That feat tied Rogers Hornsby for the most HR’s hit in a season by a 2nd baseman.
He played his last game on Sept 29, 1978 for the Cubs. By the following spring, Johnson was working in the Mets farm system, managing in Jackson, MS. Although his playing career was less than eye opening, it was as manager where Davey would make his mark. He had learned the game of baseball while playing in Baltimore for Earl Weaver, one of the most successful managers in history.
He immediately began winning and quickly moved through the ranks. In 1984, he was promoted to ‘The Show’ and immediately made his presence known in New York. Under his guidance and a superbly assembled coaching staff, the Mets found themselves embroiled in a pennant fight for the first time in almost a decade. The 84 Mets finished 2nd that year, their highest finish since winning the pennant in 73. They won 90 games, the 2nd most in team history. It was the 1st time the Mets finished over 500 since 1976.
The differences between the 69 and 86 clubs were vast. The 69 team exuded a quiet confidence. The 86 team was different. They displayed a loud, boisterous, in-your-face arrogance. They had that swagger and that came from the top. From Davey. Teams take on the persona of their manager. Whereas Gil Hodges managed quietly, Davey was out front. When we refer back to the members of the 86 team, we use their first names: Keith, Gary, Darryl, Doc, Lenny, Mookie. And Davey. But Davey was our skipper, not a player. When the 86 Mets would get into a bench clearing brawl (and there were plenty), Davey was in the middle–with the players. When Ray Knight was mobbed at the plate in Game 6, Davey was in the middle–with the players.
The Mets went 108-54 that year and cruised to a division title by 21 ½ games. At the start of the post-season, Davey was asked what he thought the Mets chances were to win it all. Confidently, arrogantly, he stated, “I think we will win it all. After all, we won more games than anyone else, didn’t we?” One did not have to look far to see the approach Davey took to managing. In his office hung a sign that the players passed on their way to the field. The sign had three simple words: Take No Prisoners.
As manager of the Mets he became the 1st skipper in NL history to win 90 games or more in his first 5 years. Players, fans and the media loved Davey for his no-nonsense approach. However, he constantly had run-ins with executives throughout his entire career. He always butted heads with Mets brass Fred Wilpon, Nelson Doubleday and GM Frank Cashen. In 1990, the Mets started slow, 20-22, and Davey was fired. He was replaced by the Mets shortstop from 1969, Buddy Harrelson.
His career would continue after leaving New York and success followed him. He took over the struggling Cincinnati Reds in 93. In 94, Davey’s Reds were in first place, (66-48) when the strike cut the season short. In 95, his Reds won the NL Central title. However, he was fired anyway after the 95 season. Controversial owner of the Reds, Marge Schott, was appalled by the fact that Davey was ‘living in sin’ with his fiancé and promptly fired him. The following year, Davey returned to Baltimore. Once again, both success and controversy followed him. The Orioles had been a struggling franchise for years. But in Davey’s first year as skipper, his Orioles won the wildcard. The following year, 1997, they won the AL East title, going 98-64. However, Davey and team owner Peter Angelos literally never talked. Towards the end of the year, Davey became embroiled in a controversy with all-star 2nd baseman, Robby Alomar. Davey found himself out in the cold and was fired by Angelos on the very same day he was voted Manager of the Year.
Throughout his managerial career, Davey Johnson compiled an impressive record of 1148-888, a 564 winning percentage. That’s quite an accomplishment as it is. But even better when one realizes that he usually took over struggling franchises and turned them around. Davey is currently working for Team USA and in the summer of 2008, he managed the USA Baseball team in the summer Olympics.
Davey remains the Mets leader in games (1012), wins (595) and winning percentage (588)