Did Phillies Overlook a Top Candidate?

The Phillies had eight candidates on their list of interviews to replace Larry Bowa. When they looked to replace Terry Francona, they interviewed nine candidates. Maybe, they should have upped their current list to nine and included Davey Johnson. If there was ever a nice fit for the Phillies dugout, Johnson might be it.

With all of the news being made about the numerous candidates for the Phillies vacant managerial job, one prospect who hasn't been interviewed at least deserves mention. This person was a decent player in his long career, but an even better manager in his post-playing days. He's won with three different organizations, and isn't afraid to speak his mind. He's also regarded as a "players manager", quite a change from the last manager of the Phillies, who was often brusque and standoffish with his players. The man of whom I speak is also a former Phillie from the late 1970s; Davey Johnson.

The last we heard from Davey was in October of 2000, when he was fired as manager of the Dodgers after leading them to an 86-76 record. This was the same Davey Johnson who resigned as manager of the Baltimore Orioles on November 5, 1997, the day he was named American League Manager of the Year. This was the same Davey Johnson who took over a faltering Cincinnati Reds franchise in early 1993, and had them in the NLCS in 1995. This was also the same Davey Johnson who led the Mets to the World Series championship in 1986, posting at least 90 wins in each of his first five seasons.

Davey Johnson      
Year / Team W L PCT
1984 New York Mets 90 72 .556
1985 New York Mets 98 64 .605
1986 New York Mets 108 54 .667
1987 New York Mets 82 70 .568
1988 New York Mets 100 60 .625
1989 New York Mets 87 75 .537
1990 New York Mets 20 22 .476
1993 Cincinnati Reds 53 65 .449
1994 Cincinnati Reds 66 48 .579
1995 Cincinnati Reds 85 59 .590
1996 Baltimore Orioles 88 74 .543
1997 Baltimore Orioles 98 64 .605
1999 Los Angeles Dodgers 77 85 .475
2000 Los Angeles Dodgers 86 76 .531
Career Totals 1148 888 .564
Johnson's overall winning percentage is .563, with 1148 wins. In 12 full seasons as a manager, his teams won more than 90 games six times, more than 100 games twice, and only once did his teams fail to break .500. He has won five division titles, and guided three different teams to the League Championship Series. The 1986 World Series was the only time he led a team to the Fall Classic, ultimately winning it.

Johnson's record of turning around moribund clubs is astounding. In 1983, the Mets were 68-94. Johnson was named manager for the 1984 season, and the Mets made a 22-game improvement, to 90-72. In 1993, the Reds started out 20-24 under Tony Perez, who was replaced by Johnson and finished 73-89. In 1994, Johnson guided Cincinnati to a record of 66-48 before the lockout, good for first place in the NL West (If you project his winning percentage of .578 for 1994 to 162 games, the Reds were headed for a 93-win season that year, which would have been a 20-game turnaround). In 1995, Baltimore finished 71-73 under Phil Regan. In 1996, with Johnson at the helm, the Orioles ended with an 88-74 record, a wild-card berth, and a trip to the American League Championship Series. Only in Los Angeles did Davey fail to improve the club in his first year. In 1998, the Dodgers were 83-79, but in Johnson's first year, 1999, he went 77-85.

Davey Johnson was the innovator when it came to using computer evaluations for game situations. He was known to have thick printouts in the dugout, pinpointing each opposing batter's tendencies, and how to pitch and defense them. But he was also one to speak his mind with management, and that may ultimately be what doomed him in each of his jobs. Baltimore owner Peter Angelos failed to give him a vote of confidence, even after leading the Orioles to successive trips to the ALCS in 1996 and 1997. Johnson took that rebuff, and resigned. The Baltimore franchise has been in a tailspin ever since.

The reality may be that Davey Johnson just doesn't have the desire anymore to be a major league manager, and that is well within his right. He has nothing left to prove to anyone after managing for the better part of 14 seasons. But I would hope that this is the case; if Johnson was not averse to returning to the dugout again and the Phillies fail to interview him, then they are missing a golden opportunity to try to acquire one of the greatest baseball managers of this era.

Charlie Manuel, Grady Little, and even Jim Leyland are all quality candidates, and it is my belief that any of those three would be able to lead the Phillies to the Promised Land. But the real "messiah" would be Davey Johnson.

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