Davey Johnson and Frank Cashen in the same room. It didn’t seem possible after what happened in May,1990 when Cashen, then the Mets’ general manager, fired Johnson as manager of the Mets. But on Sunday, both will be at Citi Field for induction into the team’s Hall of Fame. Both are said to be in touch and have resumed speaking over the years.
Former Newsday reporter Tom Verducci interviewed Cashen the day after his firing 20 years ago.
He reported the following story:
On the first day after his firing by the Mets, Davey Johnson expressed an eagerness to manage again before the end of this season. And he confirmed that he is interested in managing the Yankees if George Steinbrenner were to fire Bucky Dent.
In a conference call with reporters and in a later interview with Newsday at his home here, Johnson also said that he does not want a job in the Mets' organization; that Bud Harrelson's crackdown on team rules will not turn the club around, and that he considered his firing so inevitable that he told general manager Frank Cashen last October to oust him then.
Johnson criticized Cashen and the organization in a pointed manner but without malice. He voiced his desire to manage again with more urgency.
"I hope so, I really would like that," Johnson said about the prospects of managing. He was then asked if he wanted to return during this season. "Oh, yeah. Yep," he said.
When he was asked if he would manage the Yankees, Johnson said, "I wouldn't discount that. I don't want to say anything against Bucky. I hope he's successful. But I would have interest."
Johnson was then asked why - after having a difficult time working for Cashen - he would accept the task of working for Steinbrenner. In a swipe at Cashen's aloofness, Johnson answered, "At least you'd definitely have a lot of conversations."
Johnson said, "No job scares me. The Mets job didn't scare me. I don't need a job. I'd like to go back to managing but I don't need to. I do know that I'd definitely like to have a situation where I have a little better relationship with the general manager so that he understands it's important to inform me about the availability of other players as well as considering my input in that.
"I like George. We have a good relationship. He sent me a telegram when my father died and sent me telegrams when we won. We've had good conversations at the winter meetings. Sometimes he's asked me about certain players when we'd meet in an elevator or something and I'd tell him. Then we had our little fun with the spring games. It was all in good humor.
"Let me put it to you this way. What's the difference between what George did with Billy [Martin] and Lou [Piniella] and those guys and getting it out in the public and what happened to me with some of the things the organization did to me? Nothing. The only difference is that with George it's always out in the open and it makes the papers."
Johnson spent his first full day of unemployment lounging in the sun, swimming and watching a game between the Cubs and Giants on television. Two friends screened telephone calls for him. Johnson said several friends called to tell him, "You got a bum deal." He said none of his former players called.
Johnson, 47, wore white cotton pants, a white tank top and no shoes. He appeared tired. He said he broke a three-week abstinence from alcohol on his plane ride from Cincinnati to Orlando after he was fired Tuesday.
Though Cashen gave Johnson an open invitation to take another unspecified job in the Mets' organization, Johnson said he is not interested.
"I don't know what I'd do," Johnson said. "I'm a field boss. And as a field boss I don't think my brain was picked enough. I don't know where I'd fit in. I love the organization and all the people in it. But I don't see where I fit in."
Cashen explained on Tuesday that he replaced Johnson with Harrelson because he determined the Mets were not properly focused on playing baseball and that they lacked "fire in the belly." The issue of motivating and disciplining players always provided a field of battle for Cashen and Johnson. It was no different yesterday, when Johnson took exception to Cashen's remarks.
"Frank certainly has a right to his opinion," Johnson said. "Fire in the belly? I didn't see a difference in that. Whether we won or lost, the approach the guys took was the same. Sometimes we were successful and sometimes we weren't. But I don't think it was because of fire in the belly. If that won games, then someone ought to patent it.
"Sometimes when things go bad there's not necessarily a reason. The players have a lot of pride and gave it all they got. I've never been a big guy for having players rant and rave two hours before the game - or meditating. That went out 20 years ago."
When Johnson was asked if Harrelson's crackdown on team rules - for instance, no golf, no card-playing and a curfew - will work, Johnson said, "Nope, I don't. [But] I hope so. Look, if I thought that would have helped I would have done it. These are the things Frank wanted. I didn't think they were needed. If I felt I wasn't getting the effort, then maybe I'd do that."
It was Cashen who saved Johnson from being fired last October, but only after he contributed to rampant speculation that Johnson would not be back.
"I called him up the next day and told him, 'Why don't you just make it official?' " Johnson said. " 'Do it. I'm as good as fired.' "
Johnson said his uncertain status caused "some difficulties" in the clubhouse this season. Then, about 10 days ago in San Diego, he pressed Cashen to make a decision.
"It all goes back to the end of '89 and the way they handled that," Johnson said. "They had no choice but to fire me after that. It was only a matter of time . . . So in San Diego I told him, 'My situation is not good. Either tie an anchor around me and kick me overboard or let's start pulling in the same direction.' "
Johnson said Cashen simply responded, "That's interesting."
Johnson also commented on:
The team that the front office put together. "One thing they overlooked was flexibility. We didn't have any. Plus we had a new first baseman, a new centerfielder and a new catcher. It was going to take some jelling early on. They should have been prepared to go through that."
His lack of input in player moves. "You'd think that with success would come an expanded role. My role only was condensed. In the winter I asked for a backup centerfielder, shortstop and catcher. When they don't do anything about it all winter and all spring, then you know you have no say. And we still have six [starting] pitchers."
The timing of his firing. "I felt the club was ready to turn it around. We were getting into a stretch against East Division teams and those games always feel like you're in a pennant race. I loaded up the pitching to have Viola, Fernandez and Gooden go against Philadelphia. I expected to manage those games [against the East].
"One thing I feel sad about is going out with a losing record. I thought all along maybe they'd make a change whenever we got two or three games under .500. I don't like that at all. It leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. I'd like to get that changed real soon."
His immediate plans. "I'm going to take some time off. I wouldn't want some other club to start paying me and let the Mets off the hook that easy. My only retribution is to have them pay me for not working."