Johnson Fired by New York : Mets: Bud Harrelson hired through 1991 season as general manager cites need for a “new direction.”
The New York Mets, an organization swiftly beginning to resemble the cross-town Yankees in style and substance, fired Manager Davey Johnson Tuesday and named coach Bud Harrelson as his successor through the 1991 season.
Harrelson’s debut at the Mets’ helm was spoiled by the host Cincinnati Reds, who won, 2-1, Tuesday night.
Johnson was fired with a 1990 record of 20-22 after compiling the best record (575-395) in baseball during six full seasons as the Mets’ manager, an average of 96 victories per year and the fourth best percentage (.5927) ever.
However, General Manager Frank Cashen said the team had not played to its potential since the start of the 1989 season, when it ultimately finished 87-75, six games behind the Chicago Cubs, who won the National League East title.
“The club was underachieving and needed to go in a new direction,” Cashen said. “Part of the blame is certainly mine. Part of the blame has to be with the organization and part of the blame has to be with the team. It’s not all Davey’s.”
Said infielder Dave Magadan: “I’m surprised they didn’t fire everybody on the team and bring up our (triple-A) Tidewater team, considering the way we played. We’d play two days good, then stink for two. It’s unfortunate, but we definitely had a hand in his firing.”
On a recent 3-5 trip to the West Coast, several Mets had criticized the club’s impassive performance and attitude, prompting Howard Johnson to hold a players’ meeting in Los Angeles.
The suddenly inspired Mets emerged to rout the Dodgers twice, but that momentum couldn’t be sustained, and Johnson told writers traveling with the team that his firing was imminent.
“Davey seemed a little bit relieved when I told him,” Cashen said.
Said Johnson, after his arrival at the Orlando, Fla., airport en route to his home in Winter Park, Fla.:
“I wasn’t given a reason and I didn’t ask for one. I would have liked to have met with the players to say goodby, but Frank didn’t want me to stay around.
“I’m sorry I won’t be part of it when the Mets get straightened out, but I have no regrets. I have to think my record speaks for itself.”
Johnson has been criticized some for a laissez-faire approach to club rules that Harrelson said will now be strictly enforced, and criticized more for his handling of a touted pitching staff that has been surprisingly inconsistent.
Under Johnson, only Frank Viola, Dwight Gooden and Sid Fernandez started regularly this year, and Ron Darling, David Cone and Bob Ojeda were openly frustrated by their uncertain status and occasional bullpen employment.
Johnson escaped firing at the end of last season only because Cashen and vice presidents Al Harazin and Joe McIlvaine, who form what Johnson liked to call the “three-headed monster” that runs the Mets, couldn’t agree on it.
That divisiveness, then and now, was compounded reportedly by dissension between owners Nelson Doubleday and Fred Wilpon regarding the Mets’ direction.
It is no longer clear, in fact, as to who is in charge of the organization. Johnson, in some ways, paid the price for a series of moves that stripped the club of character and much else.
Since the World Series victory of 1986, Kevin Mitchell, Len Dykstra, Mookie Wilson, Roger McDowell, Gary Carter and Keith Hernandez have all departed, along with a variety of top prospects.
The minor league well appears to have run dry, and the Mets rank near the bottom of the National League in offense, as well as leading the majors in errors.
The lineup includes an outfielder (Mike Marshall) at first base, a third baseman (Gregg Jefferies) at second, a designated hitter (Howard Johnson) at third, a .179 hitting shortstop (Kevin Elster), a recently released American Leaguer (Daryl Boston) in center, a right fielder (Darryl Strawberry) whose alcohol rehabilitation has left him more mellow than mean in every way, and a 21-year-old catcher (Todd Hundley) who isn’t ready.
Cashen had a meeting and talked to the Mets about kindling a fire in their belly before handing the reins to Harrelson, who turns 46 Saturday and may find the assignment more than he can stomach.
In the meantime, there are already rumors involving Johnson. It is speculated that he will next manage a National League expansion team in either Orlando or St. Petersburg, or return before then, perhaps, as manager of the Yankees, where the monster has only one head.