Monday, May 14, 2018

Books: Davey's "Wild Ride in Baseball"

Davey Johnson: My Wild Ride in Baseball and Beyond
By Davey Johnson with Erik Sherman
Triumph Books, available Tuesday, May 15, 400 pages, $26.95

Davey Johnson is known here in New York mostly for winning the 1986 World Series as manager of the Mets.

Johnson was also well-known for being the guy teams hired when they needed a manager who would help them improve, such was the case with the Mets, Cincinnati Reds, Baltimore Orioles, Los Angeles Dodgers, and the Washington Nationals.

In addition to his accomplished career as a manager, Davey played most of his career for the Baltimore Orioles, and won two World Championships.

Davey Johnson: My Wild Ride in Baseball and Beyond is broken down into chapters named after significant days in his life career, such as January 30, 1943: Lessons from My Father, and October 15, 1986: 
It Doesn't Any Better Than This, about the Mets winning the National League pennant in Houston.

This book does a great job highlighting Davey the person, as he found success as a pilot and mathematician, as well as his love of golf.

There is a heartfelt forward by Mets announcer Howie Rose, in which he writes, "In October 1983, about the only thing that most New York Mets fans thought of when they heard the name Davey Johnson was that he had made the final out of the 1969 World Series. Of course, they probably remembered that he had an outstanding major league playing career with the Baltimore Orioles and a few other teams, and perhaps that he was a successful manager in the Mets' farm system, but for the most part he was a relatively anonymous baseball figure who probably didn't excit the fan base much when it was announced that he had been hired to manage the floundering ballclub.

"That all changed with one sentence.

"During the press conference to announce the move, Davey's first remark was, 'I would like to thank [general manager] Frank Cashen for being smart enough to hire me.'

"That's not how managers spoke when they were hired, particularly when it was their first big-league job. They usually made boring remarks dripping with humility, speaking generically and exciting no one. We learned on that fall day that Davey Johnson is neither boring nor humble, and for the next six and a half years the New York Mets, and a relatively young broadcaster, were much better for 

The 1986 World Series is best remembered for the Mets comeback in Game 6 of that series when they were down two runs entering the bottom of the 10th inning.

With the tying runs on base with two outs and Ray Knight at bat, Johnson writes, "In the dugout, just like inn Houston during the NLCS, I had Stotts (Mets pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre) by my side. Only this time, there was silence. I wasn't saying how it didn't get any better than this or anything like that. We had a little rally going and I wasn't going to say anything to jinx it.

"(Calvin) Schiraldi would get two strikes on Ray and we were now down to our final strike of the game, the series, and our season. Everything we had accomplished - the 108 regular season wins and the thrilling NLCS victory over the Astros - was on the line.

"Schiraldi threw the next pitch right down the middle and Knight blooped one into center field for a single to score (Gary) Carter and cut the Sox's lead to 5-4. (Kevin) Mitchell alertly judged that the ball would drop in right between center fielder Dave Henderson and right fielder Dwight Evans and hustled all the way to third base, a largely overlooked play at the time, which would prove critical.

"The crowd was alive again!

"That would bring up Mookie (Wilson), but would also bring out (Red Sox Manager John) McNamara from the Boston dugout to pull Schiraldi and bring in Bob Stanley...

"After four pitches, the count was 2-2 and we were again down to our final strike.

"The drama and the tension mounted some more as Mookie fouled off the next two pitches.

"But then on the seventh pitch, as far as I'm concerned, we won the game and the World Series. With Red Sox catcher Rich Gedman set up outside, Stanley threw one way inside - just missing hitting Mookie - for a wild pitch to bring home Mitch with the tying run and move Knight to second base.

"The crowd noise was completely deafening and you could feel the vibrations under your feet - just pure pandemonium.

"The momentum had completely shifted to our side with that wild pitch. When you're down two runs with two outs and two strikes and you come back to tie the game, in the dugout we knew were were going to win that game and nothing would stop us from winning Game 7, too. I didn't know if we would finish them off on the next pitch or the next inning - it didn't matter. We were going to win the game and the series. And that's the truth...

"After the wild pitch, Mookie had fouled off the next two pitches. But then, finally, on pitch 10, he put the ball in play and solidified his place in Mets lore.

"Wilson hit a slow roller up along the first-base line. First baseman Bill Buckner was playing with badly sprained ankles and, to make matters even worse, was shifted away from the line for two reasons: one, Mookie hardly ever hit balls down there and, two, Buck needed to cover some of (Marty) Barrett's ground as Marty tried to keep Knight close at second. With Mookie's speed and with his body already going toward first base as he pulled the ball, it was a recipe for disaster for the Red Sox.

"I thought Wilson had a great chance to beat it out.

"But we'll never know for sure because when Buckner went down to field the ball, it skidded under his glove and rolled into right field. Knight came around to score and we won the game - completing the greatest comeback in World Series history!

"But a split second before I ran out toward home plate to join the other guys to mob Knight, I took a quick glance into the Red Sox's dugout at McNamara, and thought to myself, Payback! I got him back! Now we're even! 

"I'm not kidding, the beauty of it all wasn't the Buckner error, but how after more than 23 years since that awful day in Binghamton when McNamara, the opposing catcher, had called for a fastball up- and -in that hit me in the coconut and smashed my nose and front teeth, I had finally gotten my revenge by managing a team that beat him in such an agonizing way in a World Series."

Davey's recounting of that night and what he was thinking as everyone was celebrating is just one of many stories where he gives his unfiltered take on things.

Erik Sherman, who co-wrote the book, is well-versed on that period of Mets history, as he also wrote Mookie: Life, Baseball and the '86 Mets with Mookie Wilson, and Kings of Queens: Life Beyond Baseball with the 1986 Mets.

For Mets fans and all baseball fans in general, it is well worth reading this entertaining book and taking a Wild Ride with Davey.

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