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 season.
"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 too."
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.
"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 doing."
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 antiinflammatory 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."