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Breaking Down Today’s Game Hall of Fame Ballot: Davey Johnson

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On Monday, December 5, the Today’s Game committee of the Baseball Hall of Fame — the replacement for the Veterans Committee which covers the years 1988-2016 — will vote on candidates for the 2017 induction class. This week we are looking at the ten candidates, one-by-one, to assess their Hall worthiness. Next up: Davey Johnson

The case for his induction:

As we note each year when the Manager of the Year Awards are announced, it’s hard to properly assess managers. A team’s performance is so heavily dependent on talent and health that it’s often difficult to determine what role a manager truly plays in its success. Bruce Bochy won three World Series titles in five seasons but the Giants disappointed in the second half of 2016. Did he suddenly forget how to manage? Of course not. Stuff happens.

Over time, however, it’s a bit easier. No, you can’t simply go on the number of titles a guy won, but patterns certainly emerge and a manager’s influence begins to reveal itself over decades. And there is a definite pattern for Davey Johnson: he, quite simply, won everywhere he went. Teams which hired hims saw marked improvement soon after he came on board and, for some reason, declined right after he left. Funny that.

Johnson managed for 17 seasons and won 1,372 games, posting a .562 winning percentage. He was twice named Manager of the Year. He won the 1986 World Series with the Mets, led his clubs to first place finishes in his division six times and second place finishes eight times, making the playoffs in six seasons overall. He would’ve likely won another division title and made another playoff appearance but for the strike-shortened 1994 season.

Johnson was on the scene as the Mets ascended to greatness and they descended into trash not long after he left. He did his best under a combustible owner in Cincinnati, managed to maintain the success Lou Piniella had there and the team got worse after he left. The Orioles were a sub-.500 team before he arrived, he took them to the playoffs twice, he left and they spent more than a decade in the wilderness. The Nationals made the playoffs for the first time after he took over. Only the Dodgers did not see dramatic improvement under Johnson, but nor did they really decline.

Johnson was also an innovator when it came to analytics. He was a big proponent of lineup optimization, using computers and math to do so way before his peers did. When it comes to platooning and putting players in niche roles which allowed them to maximize their talents, Johnson had few if any peers among his contemporaries. It was him and La Russa, really, with everyone else far behind.

The case against his induction:

His aggregate win total is pretty low compared to modern managers who have been inducted by the Veterans Committee, primarily due to his not managing anywhere from 2001 through 2010. If he had padded that resume with even sub-.500 clubs he’d have win totals which exceeded Casey Stengel, Walter Alston and Leo Durocher. As it is, he’s 31st all-time in wins, just below the still-active Terry Francona and just above Chuck Tanner. Even if his winning percentage is higher than the majority of managers ahead of him, those totals have harmed his case and make him pale compared to contemporaries like La Russa, Bobby Cox and Joe Torre. That’s an unfair standard — those three are among the all-time greats — but that’s who voters will likely compare him to. If he had two or three World Series titles he may have been able to overcome the win totals, but he doesn’t.

A second factor that also has a lot to do with optics as opposed to merit is that Johnson was seen as having great timing, having been hired by the Mets just as Frank Cashen assembled a killer roster of young talent and later being hired by teams which were already poised to win. That should not be held against Johnson — he could only manage the teams he was given — but some people have knocked him in the past for swooping into good situations as opposed to being on the ground floor of winning organizations. It’s dumb, but it’s a thing I’ve heard people say.

One other factor that may or may not play into this: Johnson had a difficult time getting along with the front offices who employed him, leading to short tenures in Cincinnati, Baltimore and Los Angeles. Personally I think not getting along with Marge Schott and Peter Angelos is a sign of good character, but it’s hard to avoid the fact that Johnson was a prickly character himself. Should that affect his Hall of Fame case? No. Will it? Maybe. Depends who is on the committee voting for him.

Would I vote for him?

I would. The only other manager who had the immediate impact Johnson had everywhere he went was Billy Martin. The guy just won and won in many different places under a lot of different circumstances. I wish we could point to some metric that definitively told us who was a good manager and who wasn’t, but in the absence of that I can’t help but look at Davey Johnson and say “man, that guy was a good manager.” One of the best of his era and, I feel, worthy of induction.

Will the Committee vote for him?

I’m pessimistic. Johnson’s win totals, extended absence in the 2000s and subsequent lack of disciples and proteges in the world of baseball make him feel like more of an outsider than a lot of other retired managers. His greatest exploits seem like they happened a long, long time ago and I feel like he has become under-appreciated as a result. I’ll be pleasantly surprised if he gets in, but suspect he will not.

Former Mets minor leaguer describes organization as ‘toxic’

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The Mets were one of many teams to recently release a slate of minor leaguers. Teams normally cut players at the end of spring training, but since baseball was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic, that was pushed back a bit. Teams are also facing worse economic conditions as a result of not playing games. Along with MLB’s desire to reduce the number of minor league teams — which, thanks in part to the virus, it will get — seeing a bunch of minor leaguers released from their contracts was an inevitability.

One of the minor leaguers the Mets released was pitcher Andrew Church. The right-hander was selected by the Mets in the second round of the 2013 draft. He made it to Triple-A at the end of the 2016 season and would spend parts of the ensuring three seasons there while also battling injuries.

Now out of his contract, Church made an Instagram post in which he criticized the Mets’ organization, suggesting that they exposed him to high injury risk and continued to make him pitch through injury. He described the organization as “toxic.” The full post, including additional words he posted as a comment on his post:

Please read to understand my true feelings.
Today I got released by the NY Mets organization. The people on the other end of the phone had nothing but good things to say and I appreciated that very much. Anyone that has seen me play and compete knows that I lay it all on the line no matter what. Every practice, every game. I am a competitor, a true warrior. It’s in my DNA. From the outside looking in, my baseball career probably raises a lot of questions. Why did you retire and come back? How come your numbers aren’t very good if you were that dedicated? I have always kept my opinions to myself out of respect for the organization I signed a contract with. But now that it’s officially over with them I’d like to say some things. One of the main reasons I retired was to keep myself from expressing how I felt. I was bitter, frustrated, and angry at the Mets organization. I felt my competitive nature was being taken advantage of. They knew I would never say no to competing and would fly me around to fill in for anyone that got injured. I realized this wasn’t in my best interest when my delayed flight finally landed in the 3rd inning, and I was on the mound in a AAA baseball game for the first time, without any warm up throws. My UCL originally tore that night. Instead of seeing a doctors like I asked, they sent me back to High A to pitch in the playoffs. When I told them I couldn’t I was made out to be the bad guy. Then the next year, they made a mockery of our team by putting a celebrity on it to sell more tickets. I saw players lose their jobs because of it. We weren’t playing to win, we were playing to make everyone else money. Not the players. We never saw a cut. Well, allegedly that one player did. I think people are starting to understand that more now but they didn’t in 2018 when it was happening again. I was fed up. I spent my whole childhood honing in my passion and anger, to not let it get out of control, but it was and I was going to explode. So I took the opposite direction, I bottled it and silenced myself. I took some time away and cleared my head. Continued in comments..

Baseball has always been the only constant in my life. No matter if I’m active or not I will always play. It’s my release. I asked to be reinstated in 2019, when a new player development regime took over for the Mets. I honestly think they are making strides to be a better organization, but the culture that has been built for decades within that organization is toxic. Filled with snakes and bottom feeders trying to elevate their professional careers at the expense of the players, with no remorse. I hadn’t pitched in a competitive game in over a year, but they needed a filler because someone got hurt the night before. I took a red eye flight, to one stadium, a 7 hour bus trip, another flight, and a taxi to the stadium I would be pitching in. Again I was in a AAA baseball game with no worry about my well being. I lost my drive to perform for an organization who continuously treats us as pawns in their chess games. Especially when the ones doing it, don’t know what it takes to be a baseball player. And some must’ve just forgotten. Ignorance is a scary thing. We see it in mainstream society too often. Ignorance with power and a lack of empathy is, in my eyes, the scariest of all evils. Thank you to all the players and coaches who had the passion and drive to empower each other and push the game forward. Fuck you to everyone who wasn’t. You have no place in professional baseball.
To my future, you all know I can’t stop. And I get scary when I’m motivated. Watch out! CarveNation

The “celebrity” Church alludes to is Tim Tebow. Tebow was a college football star who had a brief and ultimately unsuccessful NFL career that ended after the 2015 season. Despite not having played baseball since his junior year of high school, the Mets signed Tebow to a minor league contract. His debut season in 2017 was as bad as people predicted, as he hit .226 with a .656 in 126 games between Single-A Columbia and High-A St. Lucie. Last year, Tebow was arguably the worst overall player in the minors as he hit .163 with a .495 OPS over 77 games. Despite this, Tebow remained with the Mets, even getting an invitation to spring training ahead of the 2020 season.

As for the injury stuff, it’s shameful that the Mets did that to Church, and he is right to speak out about it. But the Mets are certainly not the only organization that treats its minor leaguers poorly. There are many more Churches out there who have had their careers derailed or ended by organizations that saw them not as people, but as means to an end. This has been reflected in myriad ways, including the insistence on paying them below-poverty wages and skipping out on paying them during a pandemic.

It’s a shame what the Mets made Church go through as he chased his dream. Kudos to him for speaking out. Hopefully Church and the recent wave of releases inspire players to speak out about their poor treatment in the minor leagues.