Davey Johnson is an accident waiting to happen. In an eight-day
span that began on Aug. 29, for instance, Johnson, the
Cincinnati Reds' manager, gassed himself with
industrial-strength flying insect repellent, nearly died from a
reaction to a mixture of anti-inflammatory drugs and was part of
three brawls in one game between Cincy and the Houston Astros.
The third fight followed a hit batsman, which led to Johnson's
ejection from the game and, upon review by the National League
office, a two-game suspension. That's your basic Wile E. Coyote
week without the falling anvils. Said an undeterred Johnson
after the end of his eight-day trial, "Things have a way of
working out for me."
He said that, despite knowing another calamity awaits him at the
end of the season. Even if his first-place Reds should win the
World Series, the ax, if not the anvil, will fall on Johnson. He
will be replaced by one of his coaches, Ray Knight, who is
officially listed as Cincinnati's assistant manager. Red owner
Marge Schott, through general manager Jim Bowden, insisted on
that awkward and irrevocable arrangement last October as a
condition for rehiring Johnson. He received no raise from his
$350,000 salary of 1994, even though Cincinnati had been first
in the National League Central when the strike shut down the
"Part of me said no to it," Johnson says, "but there was also a
part of me that said I hadn't finished here. Yeah, your pride
stands up and says, No possibility, when you hear that. But your
loyalty and your consideration for the players comes into play
Johnson has the best winning percentage (.577 through Sunday)
among active major league managers and is the only National
League skipper to have won at least 90 games in his first five
seasons (all with the New York Mets). With the Reds virtually
assured the Central Division title--their magic number was down
to nine at week's end--Johnson soon will have finished first or
second in all of the eight seasons he has managed from beginning
to end. Knight, a former Red player and a Schott favorite, has
never been a skipper on any professional level.
September 17, 1995
"Ray and I have a great relationship," says Johnson, who adds
that they don't even joke about Knight's replacing him. "It's
not really on the table at all."
Says Knight, "Davey and I have no problem. We've always been
honest with each other. He's a dear friend. I was told when I
came here with Davey [after skipper Tony Perez and two of his
coaches were fired on May 24, 1993] that I'd be the manager.
We've been dealing with it for three years."
Johnson and Knight held a meeting with their players on the
first day of spring training to address the succession issue.
Since then, says shortstop Barry Larkin, "it hasn't come up at
all. That's because the focus here has been on winning. When you
win, you don't have time to worry about what the front office is
Of late, Johnson hasn't had much time to worry about the front
office either, given that he has twice required emergency
medical attention. On Aug. 29 he commandeered a large can of
insect repellent from the Riverfront Stadium grounds crew and
sprayed most of it in his corner of the dugout to ward off
mosquitoes. "Smart mosquitoes," he says. "They'd attack with a
3-and-2 count and runners in scoring position. They knew when
you weren't paying attention to them." By the eighth inning
Johnson was so affected by fumes from the repellent that he
required treatment from the trainer, who found his blood
pressure had zoomed to 180 over 120. A doctor then ordered him
to stay in the clubhouse for the ninth inning.
Three days later Johnson was at a Cincinnati hotel writing a
card to his son when his hands turned red, his tongue swelled,
his scalp itched and his body burned. Ten minutes earlier he had
inadvertently taken a mixture of different anti-inflammatory
medications to alleviate back pain. Johnson rushed to the lobby
and instructed a hotel employee to drive him to a hospital
several blocks away.
"I walked straight into emergency--right past the desk. I thought
I was going to expire," Johnson says. "I tried to think about
golf, my family and friends, and I was saying prayers just to
keep myself going. I remember thinking it was too bad nobody I
knew was there, to tell someone I wanted to be buried by a golf
course or by a lake."
Doctors, who discovered that Johnson's blood pressure had
plunged to 80 over 40, treated him with two injections of
Adrenalin and a heavy dose of Benadryl. It took about an hour to
get him stabilized. "If I hadn't been where I was, I probably
wouldn't have made it," Johnson says. "The doctors said I was
probably only five minutes away [from dying]."
As a result of Johnson's travails--he missed all or part of five
of the Reds' previous 11 games through last Saturday--Cincinnati
has been learning to live without him, though not especially
well. When Knight took over while Johnson served his suspension
last Friday and Saturday in Denver, it turned into a crash
course in managing. Cincinnati lost both games to the Colorado
Rockies by a combined 16-7 score, with Knight appearing as eager
as a child allowed into the cockpit of a 767. He wanted to push
every button. When his cameo was over, Knight said, jokingly,
"Yes, I still want to manage next year."
Johnson sequestered himself at the Reds' hotel during Friday's
game, watching it on television. "It could be your identical
twin, but everyone manages a game differently," he says. "Ray's
strategy was just different--some good moves, some not so good.
It was fun asking myself, What would I do here?"
Knight lifted starter Pete Schourek, a 15-game winner, for a
pinch hitter in the sixth inning with the score tied 3-3;
removed his best defensive first baseman, Hal Morris, with a
one-run lead in a seventh-inning double switch; and used 18
players in all. "Other than the result, I think it was a typical
Ray Knight game with all the moves," Knight said after
Cincinnati lost 10-5. His bullpen coughed up seven runs in
relief of Schourek, whose hasty removal prompted even Bowden to
ask Knight to explain the move during a telephone call the next
"He had thrown 83 pitches, and I was only going to get one more
inning out of him anyway," Knight said Saturday. "And with the
middle of the Colorado order coming up, I didn't know if he had
The move blew up when the Rockies torched righthanded reliever
Hector Carrasco for five runs in two thirds of an inning. Knight
later learned that Carrasco could not snap off his pitches
properly because of a recurring circulatory problem in his right
index finger. "He should have never been out there," Knight
said. "I learned something. If a guy has a problem, you have to
address it daily. If I know Carrasco has a problem, Schourek
Johnson stuck around Coors Field for the game on Saturday,
though out of harm's way in a private box. Cincy fell behind 3-1
after one inning. That left Knight with few levers to pull as
the Reds went down 6-2. "I hate being behind," he said. "You
don't get to do anything as a manager."
Cincinnati is a deep, experienced team with the kind of
flexibility that allows a manager to be creative. Johnson, for
instance, has used eight Reds in the cleanup spot this year and
the same number as starting first basemen. Cincinnati has three
solid candidates for the National League MVP award: Larkin and
outfielders Ron Gant and Reggie Sanders.
The latter would seem to be Johnson's kind of player: Sanders
used exterior paint inside his South Carolina house last year
and got sick from the fumes. "I thought it would last longer,"
shrugs Sanders, often described as a five-tool player, a
paintbrush not being one of them. Sanders was a career .267
hitter entering 1995, but he is having a breakthrough year. At
week's end he led the league in extra-base hits (67) and was
second in slugging (.623) while batting .320 and stealing 31
The Reds are a resourceful club that rarely self-destructs, as
evidenced by a 21-11 record in one-run games and league lows in
errors (68) and unearned runs allowed (35). Nonetheless, they
look like a different team whenever they visit Coors Field. They
were 1-5 there after losing again 5-4 on Sunday while failing to
hold the Rockies to less than five runs in any of those games.
Cincinnati is a turf-tailored speed team (17-20 on grass fields)
that doesn't have the fly-ball hitters to slug it out in the
thin Denver air with the homer-happy Rockies, who were 38-24 at
Coors Field after last weekend.
That's bad news for the Reds if the Rockies win the National
League West. In that scenario Cincinnati and Colorado would meet
in a best-of-five divisional series, with the first two games at
Coors Field. "I believe the Reds don't want us," says Rocky
first baseman Andres Galarraga, who blasted a grand slam on
Friday and a two-run shot on Saturday.
"Well, the Rockies just hope it's them in the playoffs, let me
tell you," Johnson says. "It's a whole lot different when it
comes to the postseason."
Win or lose come October, Johnson will be looking for another
job. He's baseball's accidental tourist. After being fired by
the Mets during the 1990 season, "I wanted to stay in baseball
and I didn't care how," Johnson says. "Coaching, scouting,
whatever." He received no offers for 2 1/2 years, until Bowden
hired him as a consultant. This time he wants only to manage
again, and based on his good relations with Bowden, it appears
he has shed the cantankerous image he had when the Mets sent him
"Yes, I want to manage someplace next year," he says. "I don't
know how it will turn out, but whatever happens, it seems like
someone is always looking after me."
Johnson was interviewed by one club with a managerial vacancy
during the off-season--the Baltimore Orioles, for whom he played
second base from 1965 to '72. The Birds wound up hiring
Cleveland Indian pitching coach Phil Regan, but Baltimore has
fared so poorly (57-68 through Sunday) that it's conceivable the
position might come open again after this season. Johnson would
be a willing candidate.
"It doesn't matter where I go," he says. "It's like I told [Met
general manager] Frank Cashen when he hired me: I love working
for someone who's smart enough to hire me."