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COMMENTARY : Mets Are Blaming the Wrong Man

Following is a sampling of columnists’ reactions to the firing of New York Mets Manager Davey Johnson. The club on Tuesday named Coach Bud Harrelson as his successor through the 1991 season.

STEVE JACOBSON, Newsday

It would be wrong to hang Davey Johnson’s name tag alone on the shambles of the Mets’ season--and wrongheaded, too. It should have Frank Cashen’s and Joe McIlvaine’s imprimatur, too, as intertwined, interlocked and inseparable as the Mets’ monogram.

They put together a one-dimensional team--pitching, pitching and pitching--oblivious to the fatal weaknesses all around, and then gave Johnson an ultimatum to win with it in 42 games, or else. And even the one dimension didn’t have all that much dimension. So they fired him.

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That stinks.

TOM JACKSON, McClatchy News Service

In the wake of the firing of longtime Manager Davey Johnson, it’s time to reassess exactly what we think of the New York Mets. Are they the best team in the National League, even if it’s only on paper? Or are they, in fact, a product of their news clippings and location?

Have they genuinely been, as Mets team President Frank Cashen says, unfocused underachievers? Or are they exactly what you should expect from an everyday lineup that averages fewer than five years in the big leagues?

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When he became manager of the Mets in 1984, Johnson inherited a team that, on balance, was nearly as talented as the turn-of-the-decade Orioles. But rather than jump on their backs, jab in his spurs and ride them like some latter day Pecos Bill, as Earl Weaver might have, Johnson simply told them what time to show up and then sent them out to win.

For five years they did exactly that, stringing together an improbable record of 90 or more victories and finishing no lower than second in the National League East. They won 100 or more games twice, in 1986 and 1988. Those feats might have been plums for Johnson’s resume, except that Cashen always was nearby to remind folks what a fine group of talent he and personnel chief Joe McIlvaine had put together.

And now, as the last of an era ebbs, there is this to consider: For all those wins, about the only lasting thing the Dynasty That Never Was accomplished was getting Bill Buckner into Red Sox lore. Without the nefarious ball between the legs that settled Game 6 of the 1986 World Series and propelled New York to a Fifth Avenue victory parade, the Mets may have won more and got less out of it than any team in history.

Who gets the blame? Johnson, because the Mets won just 92 games in 1987 when the Cardinals won 95? Johnson, because the Dodgers’ Orel Hershiser was the hottest pitcher in a decade during the last three months of 1988? Johnson, because statistically the Mets are notoriously poor hitters with men in scoring position in tight games?

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Johnson, because some pitching coach (Mel Stottlemyre) convinced the brightest young strikeout pitcher since Nolan Ryan (Dwight Gooden) he’d have a longer career if he learned to trade groundouts for strikeouts and screwed him up altogether? Johnson, because the front office either traded away or released the hardness (Backman, Dykstra), the passion (Wilson) and the leadership (Hernandez, Gary Carter)?

After six years of 96 wins, a 20-22 start wasn’t good enough to suit the Mets’ elevated expectations. It shouldn’t take long to figure out if this was just another in a series of not-so-brilliant moves by the executives of the Dynasty That Never Was.

TOM VERDUCCI, Newsday

It was a miserable day for the managers of the New York baseball teams. The one running the Mets lost his job. And that meant the one in charge of the Yankees came that much closer to losing his.

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When Mets executives--too gutless to admit their own failings--fired Davey Johnson on Tuesday, they immediately cast him as the heir apparent to Bucky Dent’s job, a position that had been vacant since Billy Martin died on Christmas Day. George Steinbrenner finally has his manager-in-waiting.

Two weeks ago, when a reporter mentioned to Johnson the difficulties of managing for Steinbrenner, Johnson indicated it was a job in which he would have interest. “I could do it, sure,” Johnson said. “But first I’d make sure that I’d get certain things spelled out in my contract. That’s the only way to do it; to get George to promise he won’t do X, Y and Z and as soon as he does, I’m free to leave.”

Johnson fulfills most of Steinbrenner’s requirements for a manager: He is a marquee name, he understands the pressures of New York, he is a winner and he is available. And as an added bonus, he affords Steinbrenner the opportunity to make the Mets look bad, though these days the Mets have no trouble doing that by themselves.

Johnson is just what the Yankees need. He is a superb judge of talent who could give the Yankees a set lineup and some direction at a time when they are in flux. His record alone would command instant respect from Yankees players, who sense that Dent is overwhelmed by his task. And let’s face it, Johnson is an American League manager. His emphasis on offense would be welcome for a club that is among the worst-hitting teams in the league.

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JIM LITKE, Associated Press

Bucky Dent woke up Tuesday as the second-likeliest manager of a New York baseball team to be out of a job by nightfall. By dinner time, the Yankees manager had moved up one place.


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