Developer Chat

General WhatIfSports

Davey Johnson

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

7:00 PM - 8:00 PM EST

The LIVE portion of this chat will begin on

Tuesday, November 28, 2006 at 7:00 PM EST.

Welcome everyone to our very first Legends of the Game chat with former Major League Baseball player and manager, Davey Johnson.

Who was a better hitter, OH or AARON? (pangelallmar - Hall of Famer - 6:55 PM)

Both are great hitters. Henry Aaron because he faced a little better quality of pitching during his career. The depth of pitching in Japan wasn't as good as it was in the US. I happened to be hitting 6th when each broke the HR record.

Outside of winning the playoffs, is there one moment that stands out over the rest during your tenure as manager of the Mets? (tarheelfever - Prospect - 6:59 PM)

A really exciting moment in my career was 1984. I had this young pitcher I had in Kingsport named Dwight Gooden. In 1984 when I had to work all during the offseason to let Dwight open the season with the 1984 Mets because I thought he was going to be a big part in establishing the Mets as a contender even though he was 19 years old. It was a big sell because Tim Leary had gone from Double-A and hurt his arm in his first start and all that promise was put on hold for a number of years. So I was finally able to convince Frank Cashen to let him stay. I was very nervous Dwight's first game because I knew how important his first start would be and he pitched 5 very strong innings with a small pitch count and we won that game for him. And that, to me, was one of the biggest moments because I went out on a limb for him and he went on to have a great year. That was special for me as a manager because I helped him get his first win.

Who are the managers that influenced your style the most? (tarheelfever - Prospect - 7:02 PM)

Everybody you ever play for, you study what they do and how they go about things. The two biggest influences were Earl Weaver. I really liked how he ran the game and setup a pitching staff, the way he had long relievers, a long right and long lefty reliever and he tried to have righties/lefties, mix the staff up so he could control matchups. That was a huge influence. There were also a few things he did I didn't like and I learned from that. Another manager was Whitey Herzog. He would exploit a club's weaknesses. Basically, your starting lineup could have matchup problems against certain bullpens and he would exploit them late in a game. Your bench had to be a tool. To beat the best teams, you had to really have a strong bench and a strong bullpen which enabled you to outmaneuver your opposing manager. Those 2 were great influences on me and the kind of manager I became and are today.

What was your secret for power in 1973? (tisi29 - Hall of Famer - 7:07 PM)

Actually, I was a good power hitter throughout my amateur career and my first few minor league seasons. I had 16 homers after 60 games in the biggest ballpark in the league my 2nd minor league season. When I was called up to AAA and the big leagues, the hitting instructors wanted me to inside out the ball and hit behind runners. Darrell Johnson influenced my change in swing. In Baltimore, we had other great power hitters. I got tired of inside outing the balll, so I decided to go back and starting in 1971, I had 16 HR at the break. I tried to pull the ball again. Quick bat, strong wrists. I had an injury running into a couple catchers during 1971. In 1972 I was hurt, but no one believed me. No one believed it was a serious injury. I knew I was healthy going into 1973. Bill Evans had 9 HR at the end of April, I had 2. I said, you give me 7 HR and 11 RBI and I'll bet you the winner 2 out of 3 RBI, HR and AVG the winner will get dinner and night out on the town. He thought it was a sure bet. But I was healthy and ended up hitting more HR and won the bet. Hitting approach was the big difference. If I had done it now, I probably would have been accused of using steroids, but I'm lucky they didn't have that kind of thing back then.

What was your experience like with the Orioles and being with stars of the late 60s such as Jim Palmer, Brooks Robinson, Boog Powell and Frank Robinson? (cutter2004 - Prospect - 7:15 PM)

It was just a great organization. In the minors, we had everyone grow up together, like a boot camp in Georgia. There would be like 40 bunks in this big building, then play baseball all day before we broke off into teams, so we all knew each other very well. By the time we got to the big leagues, we knew each other very well. When I broke into big league camp, the baby birds were there. Chuck Estrada and Barber and Pappas and Steve Miller. It was like a family. When it came to spring training, everyone tried to help each other. The first year I made the club out of spring, I went to Brooks and asked how come you take so many groundballs after so many gold gloves. He said why do you think I have so many? Hard work. Same thing with Luis Aparicio. He showed me you got to play hard catch for 15 minutes each day. If it was good enough for them, it was good enough for me. Boog was the nicest guy, lived a block away from each other on 33rd street. Everyone socialized together. 1 big family. The ownership, Jerry Hoffberger, the Colt 45 beer owner. We kidded each other. Palmer, McNally, Dobson. Everybody. It was easy to play behind them because you knew each other so well. The infield moved as well as the OF. Blair, Frank Robinson. We'd sit around before and after games. We were the first ones to have the kangaroo court. Frank was the judge. We came up with awards that you kept until the next meeting. Baserunning, hitting fielding, pitching. It was good humor, but nobody ever wanted to win because it meant you messed up. We had talent, but being so close togher lead to 2 World Series championships.

Who was the funniest player you ever played with? (mcsinsider - Prospect - 7:18 PM)

Alot of funny guys. The pranksters made you laught the most. The first was Moe Drabowksy. He came in in relief for McNally in the World Series and struck out 6. Moe shut them down. The next day, Jim Murray from the LA Times wrote in the newspaper it was the first time a pollock came into the World Series with a fastball instead of a rake. You couldn't write that today. Moe loved that. He gave hot foots, dress up funny, he had a very dry humor and kept us all laughing. A more modern day guy was Roger McDowell, always pulling pranks. He's now the pitching coach for the Dodgers, so he probably can't do those things anymore.

Despite a very successful playing career and an equally successful career as a major league manager; Do you have any regrets that those amazingly talented Orioles teams (especially 1969-1971), don't get enough historical credit for being as good as they were? (Bandit2000 - Veteran - 7:20 PM)

I do, but I think they got alot of credit. The Mets beat us the one year even though we had an incredible team. We should have beat Pittsburgh, too. Because we didn't win 3 in a row, we weren't a Dynasty. We should have been. We were the first team to replace the Yankees.

During your career, you played alonside some amazing shortstops, including Luis Aparicio, Mark Belanger & Larry Bowa. Who would you consider to be the best shortstop you ever played with or against? (Bandit2000 - Veteran - 7:22 PM)

I'd have to say that Aparicio was the best defensively. Belander's hands were unbelievable. Here's a man that didn't wear a cup. Mark's hands were so good, but he didn't have the arm Aparicio did. Aparicio patented the jump and throw from deep in the hole. Barry Larkin and Cal Ripken were also special.

Do you remember your first major league home run, and who was the pitcher? (pangelallmar - Hall of Famer - 7:22 PM)

I do not remember. I remember my first hit in the big leagues; it was off White Ford. He then picked me off first base. Later that game, he picked me off second. I never got very far off base that first year.

Who was the toughest pitcher you ever faced as a hitter and why? (mcsinsider - Prospect - 7:24 PM)

They were all tough. You learned to succeed in the big leagues, you had to make adjustments. Probably, the toughest guy was the first time I faced Bruce Sutter and I had never seen a split finger before. Fastball, but the bottom fell out of it. Starting pitchers, you had a chance to adjust to. Great relievers with a trick pitch, you didn't get to face them enough. It sure was uncomfortable because you take some bad swings. I faced Koufax, Drysdale, Gibson -- they were all nasty. Nolan Ryan about ended my life. Weaver wanted me to bunt and it came right at my coconut. I fell back and luckily it deflected as I was going down on my rearend.

Do you think steroids should keep anyone out of the Hall? (jktcat - Hall of Famer - 7:30 PM)

I honestly don't know. The one thing that bothers me about the whole thing is the philophy on training to be a great baseball player changed dramatically in the late 70s, early 80s. You could lift weights, but when I came along the trainers said not to because it would train new, unskilled muscles. Weight training has proven to be the best thing in the world for all sports, even golf. It doesn't hurt the skill, only makes you stronger. Because of that, vitamins and elctrolytes, supplements -- players would take to recover quicker. For the player to be able to lift weights more often during the season lead to some players taking certain supplements that had HGH and I don't think they knew it when it first happened, that they didn't know what they were taking. Since MLB wasn't testing for it, it's hard to fault the player for working out real hard and taking vitamin supplements. Early on, I have a hard time blaming guys for the things they took because they were only trying to get better and were working hard. To answer the question, once they found out trainers were giving that to players and they started testing for it, those guys went across the line and they should be punished. Not only would it enhance their performance, it was something that could kill them so the punishment needs to be severe so they don't risk shortened lifespan for better performance.

How can i make my swing better? What should I do to Hit For Power and contact? (rcktchamp - Hall of Famer - 7:36 PM)

The first thing is conditioning program. All-around program. Before weight training came in, guys like Aaron, Robinson used hand grippers to get strong hands. They'd use them each day, both hands. Once you get a burn, turn it upside down or switch hands. That would be the hand training before your workout. Then, what I'd recommend to young players is you can swing a bat at a tire, the motion you use to chop a tree down is really good for developing a good swing. The biggest thing is to get the barrell into the hitting area in the shortest straight line. Practice the same swing on a high pitch or low pitch, where the swing levels out. This eliminates the loop in the swing (too big of an upper cut). You want the barrell coming into the hitting area as quick as possible. Hitting fungos to guys is a good drill. Learn to pick up your foot and put it back in the same place when you swing, keep your hips closed and let them pull the bat through. If you do that, practice that, your swing will get shorter and more powerful. You'll have a change to be a great hitter. Once you perfect your swing: timing. Once you have a good swing, it is usually do to timing. Don't change your swing because you get beat once - time it better the next time.

How hard is it to keep an end of the bench guy happy, even though he may not play very often? (tarheelfever - Prospect - 7:39 PM)

The most important thing in managing is you have 25 guys and all 25 need to have a role. And they need a role that is gonna be needed, potentially, every day. It's important to give every player an opportunity. If you don't create that, you can't have good chemistry and you end up playing with 24 or 20 or whatever. It's very important to have roles for 25 players. A 25-man team is much stronger than a 24-man team. When you do that, then everyone understands their role, they can mentally prepare for their chance and they can be ready. They also know if they do their role very well, then, as a manager, you'll expand your role. That's what a team is and that's how you win.

When you managed the Mets, how did it feel when Jesse Orosco struck out Marty Barrett to end the 1986 World Series? (drobinjak - Rookie - 7:41 PM)

There's nothing greater than winning the World Series. It takes a whole lot of work and when it finally happens, it's almost unbelievable because you take nothing for granted. When you hit a ball, you run really hard because they may not catch. Until that last out is made, there's always a chance you can lose. AFter 8 1/2 months of a season finally ending with a world series is great, best feeling in the world.

How much input as a manager did you have in player acquisitions? (tarheelfever - Prospect - 7:45 PM)

You're always having meetings with your GM and your scouts about your depth in the system. If somebody got hurt, is there somebody ready to step in, that kind of thing. It's always important to have the depth in the system. That's always analyzed. When a manager is putting together his 40-man roster and invitees, you're looking for flexibility to face lefties/righties, diverse lineups on other clubs, defensively. It's imporant for a manager to express what guys are important for all of the above reasons. The manager is ultimately responsible for winning/losing, so they have a great deal of input. Many times, I needed a specific player like a complement to Hojo, which was Ray Knight. You want to have no weaknesses, so you express those needs. EVeryone needs a role, so it's the manger's fault if he can't handle them.

Davey, For my money you are one of the best major league baseball managers of all time and maybe the best living manager. Your record and accomplishments are proof. So, why aren't you currently managing a team in major league baseball? Dave Johnson (no relation) New Castle, Delaware. (davejo - Newbie - 7:49 PM)

I am managing the USA Baseball team. I was also fired 3 times and resigned once (Baltimore). Thanks for the compliment by the way. After I was fired in 2000, I wanted to be home with my family. It was the first time I didn't feel like I had the opportunity to give enough input into the organization, to be heard. And nobody likes to get fired. By not being able to succeed in LA and I didn't have the input, it kind of soured me. It burned me up. So, I didn't want or haven't really wanted to put myself in that situation unless I really knew the GM, had a good understanding, that I'd do anyting in my power to make it work. And when it does work and you want to make a change, let's predetermine that. Nobody likes to get fired, I didn't want to leave NY, Cincy or Baltimore. But I'm very happy because I'm appreciated by USA Baseball and Bob Watson and I think the guys that play for me appreciate what we do together and I get my baseball fix from that.

During your career, you were a 4x All-Star and a 3x Gold Glove winner. Do you feel that your success on the field gets over-shadowed by the success you had as a manager? (Bandit2000 - Veteran - 7:55 PM)

Well, I was fortunate to be on winning teams, the Orioles. I never thought about it as individual performances. It was what we did to win. It's funny, as a manager, I was more concerned about the players doing the things they were capable and, if they did that, winning would be a by-product of that. As a manager, I grew up, Weaver used to say, early on, win ballgames and I lose it. I thought that really apropos. If the players win, it's their fault and losing is the manager's fault. In 1972, Weaver came out and said I can't hit for them, I can't pitch for them, I'm doing everything I can. He kind of changed his tune at that point, before he got his 5-year deal. I asked to be traded at the end of that year because I had such a miserable year and Grich was coming up. Back to the original question, I never had a big ego so the focus was on winning.

Was there ever a manager you wish you could have played for and was there a player that you wish you could have coached? (mcsinsider - Prospect - 7:58 PM)

I would have loved to play for Whitey Herzog. He was ahead of his time as a manager. I got to coach most all-star players when I coached the all-star team. I was fortunate to manage so many great players.

When during your playing career or after it, did coaching really become something you wanted to do? (rmj97 - Hall of Famer - 8:04 PM)

When I was playing for Weaver, early on, I was a computer guy. I was into computers when it was a 360, COBAL and FORTRAN, keypunch cards you had to fill out and put your data in. Way back then, Palmer and I tried to help Weaver manage, do a lineup. We had a computer game to generate the perfect lineup. I wanted to help Weaver. At that point, I wanted to see if things I learned could help. When I played with other managers, Danny Ozark was the last big league managerI played for, it whetted my appettite to try it on my own. I was plannong on playing the next year after my last year in Philly. When I went to the winter meeting, Pitt had some interest in me coming back as a player. Along the way, I was offered a job as a player-manager in a new minor league system with Joe Ryan. He kind of let me put it together from scratch, training camps, pick the training site. We were beating up on the rest of the league that the rest of the league folded. WE were 15 games up after 85 games. I was kind of the GM, selling players to Japan. Joe Ryan was in the hospital and he asked me to do the GM stuff. They asked me to come back and do it again in Shelby. They'd let me sell the players at the end of the year, but I didn't want to do that. Joe McIlvane offered me another position and that's how my career started.

Davey, I've simulated the 86 Mets and 86 Red Sox on WIS and the Sox won. Does this surprise you or do you think the Mets really were the better team? (mwelch - Hall of Famer - 8:08 PM)

Since I managed the Mets, I have to say we were a great team and so were the Red Sox. You don't get to that point without being a great team. Great pitching, great defense (discounting Buckner's play). If you play it enough times, both teams will win. There's a standard deviation involved. If there were 1000 games simulated, I think the Mets would win. If you keep bringing Stanley in with a guy on 3B, the percentages are in our favor that he'll wild pitch him in. You have to keep doing that.

A lot of your former players are now managing or coaching in professional baseball (which I don't think is meer coincidence). Do you take pride in this fact? And do these guys ever contact you for advice? (tarheelfever - Prospect - 8:12 PM)

I talk to alot of the guys I previously managed. I taught them well enough where they don't call regularly for advice. Sometimes they call. Players take things from any good manager. For example, Wally Backman could hit one pitcher but not the other. They may not like it, but it helps them down the road. Using Teufel part of the time, Backman the other, they learn from that. It's about using talent the best way. When the players realize they have a role, you can change it when the performance dictates it. One of the best managers now is Rod Gardenhire, who played for me. These guys didn't miss anything, which helps you become a good manager. Awareness and giving guys opportunities, every last man on the club. When you do that, you have a chance to succeed which is what these guys are doing.

What is the most memorable kangaroo court fine you've ever had on one of your teams? (tarheelfever - Prospect - 8:15 PM)

The best court we ever had was when Frank Robinson put on the mop as judge. I wasn't one to really live in th e past, so when we gave someone the Chico Simoe award for baserunning, cleats in your locker. It was given to Aparicio one time who was one of the best baserunner. Nobody would say a peep. When Palmer earned the John Donahue for giving up a homer to Mantle, nobody would say a peep but everybody would laugh. Palmer owned Mantle, but this one time he got the award. Those are the ones I remember. The one to Palmer was bittersweet, because he was always putting everyone down including Weaver. I wouldn't put it past Weaver to have Frank give it to Palmer.

Thank you very much for participating in our first Legends of the Game chat. It's been great being able to pick the mind of a former All-Star player and Manager of the Year. For more information regarding upcoming chats, please click here.

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