AMAZIN’ QUOTES: DAVEY JOHNSON
10 Amazin’ Quotes is a MetsRewind exclusive that includes quotes from select book readings. You will hear from former Mets players, managers, coaches and leadership, their thoughts and perspectives on significant moments in franchise history. Note: The selections are not designed to be in order of importance or value, but to add depth and understanding Mets history. You can also access our library of Mets books here.
The thing that I put the most emphasis on with my ballplayers—even more so than their natural talent—was their makeup. I was most concerned, above all else, with whether a guy was going to give me 110 percent—no matter what—every time he went out there. I could care less if he’s in a slump or whatever. The question I would ask myself was always, Is he going to give me all he’s got?
Whenever you hear a manager say, “I treat everybody the same,” it’s the biggest crock of baloney in the world. Everybody’s different. Everybody’s psyche is different. And everybody’s motivation is different. Some guys you have to pat on the back more; with others, you’ve got to kick them in the pants.
“I have a list of 10 skills I look for in a manager,” Frank Cashen said during my interview in an Atlanta Fulton County Airport lounge (in 1983). “Fearless, intelligent, good communicator, energetic, tough, dedicated to player development, patient, hardworking, cooperative, and positive.”
“Yeah, I got all those,” I told him. “Anything else?”
For all the joy I felt in winning that game (Game 6, 1986 World Series), I did feel bad for Buckner—and still do. When we played together with the Cubs, he was a good first baseman, a great hitter, and an excellent teammate … here was a guy with 2,715 career hits and, for many, he is remembered mostly for that one error. It’s really sad. The reality is that in Game 6, it was all the late hits we got and the wild pitch that caused their loss, not Buckner’s error. And I’ve heard how he’s gone through some hell over it. It’s just not fair—he’s too good a guy for all that.
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One of the primary ways I wanted to change the culture of the Mets and their moribund path was to stress working on fundamentals—something the last-place club hadn’t emphasized in previous years. During my first spring training as Mets manager, we worked on some bunt plays I picked off from the Cardinals, the wheel play, and all kinds of defensive alignments. I think a tight structure set up at spring training allows extra work time for the guys who don’t do things very well. The instruction and practice they receive are just part of the learning process that helps them become major league–level ready.
By the end of spring training (1984), despite a stiff back, Doc showed everyone his stuff was more than major league ready. I practically pleaded with Frank. “I’ll take care of him,” I told Cashen. “Trust me. I won’t abuse him.” I simply never had a doubt that Gooden could handle the big stage—even as a teenager … Dwight was a young man who loved the game—that was apparent early. He was always happy, came from a great family, and pitched for a great high school coach. I didn’t see any behavior out of the ordinary that would lead me to think he would consider any other path than to take care of himself. Frank finally acquiesced … I got my ultimate wish. Doc was coming to Flushing.
After a sluggish start to the (1990) season, I bumped into Al Harazin in the lobby of our Cincinnati hotel. “Davey, go up to your room. Frank’s there …” So I went up to my room and sat down with Frank. Considering our long history together going back to our days in Baltimore, it wasn’t an especially long conversation. “Davey, we’ve got to let you go.” “Well, Frank, it’s been great. I’ve really enjoyed the run. And I appreciate the opportunity you gave me all those years ago. What do you want me to do to make it easy on you?” “We’d like you to leave out the back door of the hotel. We’ve got a car ready to take you to the airport. We would appreciate it if you didn’t say anything to the players, the coaches, or the press.” “I can’t say goodbye to my players?” I asked. “It would be easier for the team with Buddy taking over if you just take off,” Cashen said.
I was crushed.
Strawberry—a player with unlimited, yet not completely realized, potential … I really tried to be like a father to him in a lot of ways … I once told Darryl, “You can’t stay out late. You can’t drink all night. And you can’t have sex all night. You’ve got to cut it to one out of three.” I realize he was probably doing all those things to help him deal with the pressure of being a young superstar in New York … I wasn’t going to go out looking for him and drag him out of places. He was a grown man. But when that kind of behavior had him coming late to the ballpark or not hustling on the ballfield, I had to do things like fine him. But even with the fines, I tried to be fatherly … But I think what really held him back was his thinking that because he was the No. 1 pick in the country, in his mind, he was as good as he needed to be.
Another one of my hard-and-fast rules was to always put a young pitcher in the position to get a win. I watched how other teams managed young talent and would often shake my head at how they used them. I would often see a kid with a one- or two-run lead after six innings and marvel at how he’d be allowed to go out and pitch the seventh inning … Building a young starting pitcher’s confidence was equally as important to me as taking care of his arm.
It was the first day of full-squad spring training (1986) and I had a message for my ballclub. “We’re not going to just win the championship,” I told them. “We’re going to dominate! We’ve got all the pieces together, boys—now let’s go do it!” We simply had a great club that just kept getting better and better. We did the things we needed to do to win. Putting this team together wasn’t easy. It was a challenge. In that way, we mirrored the city. New York’s a challenging place to work and play. But that would make winning there all the sweeter.