By Dan Connolly
Originally published March 24, 2006
VIERA, Fla. // The trim man in the sunglasses, jeans and matching World Baseball Classic ballcap and golf shirt wandered into the visiting dugout at Space Coast Stadium yesterday hours before the Orioles played the Washington Nationals.
"Hey, Skip," he yelped
Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo jumped to his feet and rushed the man, bear-hugging him like a long-lost brother.
For the first time since an acrimonious departure from the team at the end of the 1997 season, Davey Johnson was back in the Orioles' dugout, albeit temporarily.
"The Orioles are my favorite team," said Johnson, who played with the Orioles from 1965 to 1972 and managed them to consecutive losses in the American League Championship Series in 1996 and 1997. "My kids were born in Baltimore, I grew up in the organization, I had the opportunity to come back and manage it. You know where your roots are, where your heart is and you want them to continue to be good."
Johnson's Orioles ties were cut abruptly in 1997 - the Orioles' last winning season - on the day he was named AL Manager of the Year. He resigned that day with one season remaining on a three-year deal after conflicting with team owner Peter G. Angelos on, among other sticky issues, a contract extension. To this day, though, he still refers to that incident as "getting fired."
Johnson, who lives in Winter Park, Fla., admits he had had some lingering bitterness toward the Orioles, but that ended as he was beset with personal tragedies.
Johnson, 63, nearly died in 2004 while suffering from a mysterious stomach ailment that turned out to be a year-long ruptured appendix. At one point, his weight plummeted from 250 pounds down to 145. But even that ordeal couldn't prepare him for the pain of last June when his youngest daughter, 32-year-old Andrea Lyn, an accomplished surfer, died suddenly after a lengthy battle with schizophrenia.
"I lost my daughter, Andrea, and I got a nice bouquet of flowers from Mr. Angelos and his wife," Johnson said. "And any ill will I had harbored vanished with that - completely."
He continued: "The ill will wasn't so much [about] getting fired, because I have been fired before and that wasn't an issue. The ill will I harbored is that I did try to do everything in my power to make the Orioles successful and please him. I did want to do that and I failed at that, but I did give it my best."
Johnson sat out a season and then managed the Los Angeles Dodgers for two years before being fired in 2000. He hasn't been back in the majors since, though he did manage the 2004 Netherlands Olympic team and was Buck Martinez's bench coach this month for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic.
Overall, Johnson won 1,148 major-league games and one World Series (with the 1986 New York Mets) in 14 seasons.
"A lot of things I think I have learned, I learned from Davey Johnson," said Perlozzo, who was a third base coach for Johnson in Cincinnati and Baltimore.
Johnson doesn't often attend baseball games anymore, but he thought yesterday would be the perfect occasion - seeing both his old coach Perlozzo and his former teammate, Frank Robinson, the Nationals' manager.
"It was like Orioles old home week," he joked.
Perlozzo, in his first full year as a manager, said he took his mentor aside and picked his brain about certain situations.
"I asked him a lot," Perlozzo said. "It was like he was sent from heaven."
The outgoing Johnson reveled in the attention, and in swapping stories with Perlozzo, bullpen coach Rick Dempsey and several writers and broadcasters.
When asked if he'd like to manage again, he laughed.
"It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out the fact that you are going to get fired and I don't particularly like it, getting fired," Johnson said. "So do I want to put myself back in a situation where I get fired again? No, I don't."
Right now, he is concentrating on his physical and mental health. He is up to a fit 190 pounds and is playing golf again. He also helps his wife with her upscale dress shop in Winter Park, near Orlando.
Yes, he's content to stay away from managing. At least until he's old enough to forget about the past.
"If I lose a lot of my memory, that might come back into play," he joked. "I am no longer a spring chicken. I feel young and I think young even with what I have been through physically.
"But I still have enough brain cells connected to remember how things have ended up."