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Davey Johnson Didn’t Want a Team Meeting, but It Worked

The Hartford Courant

Davey Johnson hates team meetings. He hated them when, as a player in Baltimore, Earl Weaver made him sit through them. He hates them just the same when he, as manager of the Mets, makes his players do the same.

“I think meetings are distasteful,” Johnson said disdainfully Wednesday. “If you have to have one, it’s all in the timing. Always have one before Dwight Gooden pitches or after Sid Fernandez strikes out 16. Don’t have ‘em on days (Jim) Deshaies pitches.”

Yet, sometimes it’s not the timing, but the times that dictate what a manager must do.

“I didn’t have a meeting in 1986 and won 108 games,” Johnson agreed wistfully. “I don’t think I even argued with an umpire. I was happy the whole year.”

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This season, Johnson’s lucky if he’s happy more than two or three days at a time. When Johnson sent David Cone and the Mets out to face Houston Wednesday, his team was seeking to win at least two in a row for only the fifth time this month. The Mets also were trying to even their second-half record at 4-4.

The Mets won, 8-2.

The Mets’ latest slide had pushed the third-place team four games behind the first-place Expos. It allowed the dreaded Cardinals to pull within a game of New York.

That kind of stumble is almost akin to a national emergency in these parts. Which is just about what it takes to get Johnson to reverse his thinking on those dreaded meetings.

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He reversed big time Tuesday, one fitful night after watching the Astros sweep a pair of games from the Mets. For the third time this season, Johnson cleared the clubhouse of all but players and coaches. And this meeting, Johnson said, “was rough.”

Johnson had good reason to explode. Even the most easy-going manager has his limits on just how much lethargy and malaise he can stomach. And the Mets have given Johnson more than a mouthful of both all season.

He’s not alone in being just about out of patience.

It did not escape many eyes that Johnson called the team together for its lambasting moments after he was seen huddling with Fred Wilpon, who, along with Nelson Doubleday, owns the Mets. That meeting was enough to set off speculation that a crosstown Steinbrenner-esque breeze had wafted through Shea Stadium.

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But Mets spokesmen informed the media Wednesday that Wilpon and Johnson merely discussed baseball, as they always do. There were no tantrums, no threats. Just baseball. The only light Johnson would shed was to say, “There were some things Fred did say to me that shocked me, that he was even thinking those things.”

What things, Johnson was asked?

Johnson smiled and declined to say, leaving the contents of that particular meeting as big a mystery as, well, the Mets.

And the Mets are a mystery.

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Yes, Johnson’s “pep” talk was followed by an uplifting 9-0 victory over the Astros Tuesday. But uplifting victories usually require a valley from which to crawl. And the Mets were the last club this side of the Oakland A’s anyone thought would ever need such boosts regularly. That the Mets have needed many such victories to stop skids this season says a lot about how wrong this team has gone.

The lurch into the second half was especially trying because of the way the Mets had exited the first half. Right before the break, for a fleeting moment, it appeared the Mets had found their emotional fighting edge. They’d won three of four from the Reds, mixed it up in a fight with Rob Dibble and all comers in Cincinnati uniforms.

The Mets finally seemed to be a cohesive unit, pulling for the same things. But somehow all the excitement generated by that spirited series got lost over the break. Losing two games by the cumulative score of 18-3 Monday did nothing to alleviate Johnson’s fears that the bad old days were seeping back in.

So came the meeting, because Johnson felt it was necessary to remind the Mets of who they are. And how, if only they’d live up to expectations, this could all be so easy.

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He’s right. After all, how many struggling teams, other than the Mets, can say they have more than enough starting pitching? The Mets cannot plead poverty there, even with Dwight Gooden disabled. Even without the good Doctor the Mets have still got about four starters who’d be No. 1 on the other side of town.

Then there’s the hitting. How many struggling teams, other than the Mets, can say they’ve really got all the big hitters they need? Darryl Strawberry, Howard Johnson, Kevin McReynolds and Juan Samuel form a nucleus as potentially dangerous as any in the game.

Problem is, while the Mets have many stars, few are shining this season. Howard Johnson is. So, finally, is Sid Fernandez. Young Dave Magadan has proven a worthy fill-in for injured Keith Hernandez. But other keys to the Mets’ success, such as Ron Darling and Bob Ojeda, Strawberry and McReynolds, have struggled for practically the whole season. Throw in some raw, uncertain youngsters, such as Gregg Jefferies and pitcher David West, and you have the components for a troubled team.

Yet Johnson and the Mets’ brass refuse to let the trouble belie what they insist is still here.

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“We have a lot of talent,” Johnson said adamantly for seemingly the 1,000th time this season. “We just need to express it more.

“This club still has the potential for everybody to have a decent year. And if that happens, we win big.”


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