Davey Johnson in HOF? Darling thinks so

Skipper led Mets to 1986 World Series title and won 1,372 career games

March 19th, 2021

NEW YORK -- It’s hard to believe that it’s been 35 years since the Mets won their most recent World Series championship. For baseball analyst and former Major League pitcher Ron Darling, who pitched for that team, he can’t help but think about Davey Johnson, the manager who guided the Mets to the top of the mountain.

Johnson was known to be an extremely confident manager -- so confident that before Spring Training started in 1986, he told his players they were going to dominate on the field. They did, of course, winning a Major League-leading 108 games. The second-place finisher in the National League East that year -- the Phillies -- ended up 21 1/2 games behind New York.

The postseason wasn’t easy, however. Astros ace Mike Scott was nearly untouchable in the NL Championship Series, but the Mets managed to win the series in six games.

The Mets were seemingly well on their way to losing the Fall Classic to the Red Sox, but a miracle happened in the 10th inning of Game 6, when and error by Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner helped the Mets score the winning run to tie the World Series at 3 games apiece. New York won it all two days later.

“It was a win-or-bust kind of year in ’86,” Darling said via telephone. “There was nothing else we could do except win. Davey took all the heat that year. He made a couple of comments about [how] we were going to run away with the division and win it all. He was completely confident. He was so confident in us that he could say that.

“It took a lot of the pressure off us and put it squarely on him. He said, ‘The buck stops here.’ That’s what he did that year. All of us owe a debt of gratitude to Davey.”

It helped that the Mets had the players to back up Johnson’s boast. The Mets combined an unhittable pitching staff, led by Darling and Dwight Gooden, with gritty veterans like Keith Hernandez and Gary Carter and a superstar slugger in Darryl Strawberry, who provided the extra power the team would need to trounce opponents.

Yes, the talent was there. But the way Darling sees it, it was Johnson who put the confidence into the team. Darling goes even further. He doesn’t think he would have had a productive career on the diamond if it weren’t for Johnson.

“He was a person that made you confident about your whole deal,” Darling said. “Most baseball players have a guardian angel that kind of helps them reach the Major Leagues. I don’t know if I would have had the success without Davey’s tutelage. He believed in me. One of his greatest strengths was that he had a great eye for talent. He had a great way of getting the most out of that talent.”

Johnson, according to Darling, was ahead of his time. Way before analytics dominated the game, Johnson was a computer whiz who was into matchups. It didn’t matter, for example, if the right-handed-hitting Tim Teufel was scorching the baseball; he most likely was going to start at second base against left-handed pitching.

“I don’t remember ever remember playing in a game where you felt like the opposing manager took advantage of Davey,” Darling said. “It was always the other way around. Davey was always one step ahead.”

Darling’s playing career ended after the 1995 season, and he went on to become an excellent analyst for SNY, MLB Network and TBS sports. He said his baseball career -- on and off the field -- wouldn’t have happened without Johnson.

“I owe this to Davey,” Darling said. “He once told me, ‘Listen, if you continue the way you are pitching now, you are going to be pitching in the Major Leagues for me when I’m a manager next year.'

“This was before he was offered the job [in 1984]. It was many months before I was called up to the big leagues. He was so confident in his abilities that he made you more confident in yours. He stuck to that promise. I must have started 200 games for him. I’m very proud of it.”

Darling thinks so highly of Johnson that he believes his ex-skipper belongs in the Hall of Fame. And Darling has a point. Johnson not only led the Mets to the 1986 World Series, he also won everywhere he managed -- from the Orioles to the Reds, Dodgers and Nationals – tallying 1,372 career wins in 17 years as a manager.

“Davey should be more beloved. … To me, he is a Hall of Fame manager because of the way he won games,” Darling said. “Just look at his record of getting to the postseason with great teams, good teams and mediocre teams. New York people are going to go nuts, but I put him up there with Joe Torre [who is in the Hall of Fame].

“Joe might have had more success while managing the Yankees, but not as much success in other places. Davey had success wherever he managed. … You can make an argument Joe Torre and Davey Johnson belong in the same conversation. You can make an argument for Davey for the Hall of Fame.”