Davey Johnson: My Wild Ride in Baseball and Beyond by Davey Johnson and Erik Sherman. Review by R. Zachary Sanzone
Davey Johnson: My Wild Ride in Baseball and Beyond. Triumph Books (May 15, 2018). Hardcover: 384 pages. $26.95
“Well I guess they still like me up here.” And so begins Davey Johnson’s autobiography, Davey Johnson: My Wild Ride in Baseball and Beyond, co-authored with Erik Sherman (co-author of Mookie: Life, Baseball, and the '86 Mets). This first line of Johnson’s book reflects an attitude that is void of self-grandeur, although readers will quickly recognize the former player and manager’s genius accumulated over fifty years in baseball.
Red Sox fans like me still wince anytime we hear about the 1986 World Series, especially Game Six, even though it was thirty-two years ago. So when I first picked up Johnson’s book, I knew I’d have to take a deep breath before reading about how Johnson led the New York Mets to a victory over my Red Sox. Fortunately for me, there was so much more to read about Johnson’s life aside from that come-from-behind World Series victory. Johnson’s name may not be as well known as someone like Ted Williams or Willie Mays, but baseball fans will appreciate reading about Johnson’s life in baseball.
Many baseball memoirs are written in a dry and matter-of-fact way that can leave readers with much to be desired in the way of captivating storytelling. The first few pages of Johnson’s autobiography make it clear though that it’s not a book readers will struggle to get through. In fact, I read the entire book in one day, mainly because Johnson’s charismatic personality shines on each page.
Johnson’s book begins with his early life as an Army brat whose father taught him about military hierarchy—never go above the person ahead of you. Johnson took this philosophy to heart and abided by that principle throughout his career. Later as a manager Johnson would ask players, “What are you willing to give up to get where you want to go?” It is in these pages that the readers not only develop a strong idea of who Johnson was as a player and a manager, but at times it feels as though he’s sitting across from you telling you about his philosophy of life. It’s not done in a confrontational or arrogant way, but readers certainly take away a clear and unapologetic understanding of Johnson’s values and beliefs. He makes it clear that he would have done whatever he could for his teammates and players, but that offer of help came with the understanding that there would be absolutely no corner cutting whatsoever. It was either 100% or nothing.
Among the many tidbits and stories chronicled in Johnson’s autobiography, one of the most intriguing focuses on his fascination with numbers and mathematics. Johnson recognized the value of sabermetrics early in his career when many other players and managers couldn’t, or wouldn’t, recognize its usefulness. His love for numbers not only served him well when writing the starting lineup, but also when it came to investing in real estate.
Johnson's book talks about how he was present at many significant and historical events in baseball. He batted behind Hank Aaron during his days with the Atlanta Braves, and witnessed Aaron break Babe Ruth’s home run record in April of 1974. He also saw Sadaharu Oh surpass Ruth during his days playing for the Yomiuri Giants in Japan. As the last out of the 1969 World Series, Johnson reflects on how he and his teammates developed a plan to win the 1970 World Series, instead of sulking and making excuses for their defeat. By the time Johnson finished his playing career in 1978 with the Chicago Cubs he’d been named to four-time All-Star teams and was a three-time Gold Glove winner.
The cover of the book depicts Johnson in his New York Mets uniform during his years as their manager. Readers get a new perspective on the 1986 World Series, the same one that shocked baseball fans after the famous error in Game Six that saw Mookie Wilson’s dribble down the first base line go through the legs of Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner. While that World Series is remembered as one of the best in history, fewer fans know the complicated stories about its star players, and Johnson's relationship with them. Players like Darryl Strawberry, and Dwight Gooden are remembered for their drug habits as much as their dominance in baseball. It’s in these pages that readers get a strong understanding of how much Johnson cared about them. Johnson writes that he was “crying inside” and that Gooden “was like a son to me” after finding out about Gooden’s drug habit. Johnson’s devotion to his players, however, pales in comparison to his devotion to his family.
Johnson’s daughter, Andrea, was a nationally ranked amateur surfer in the 1980s, but died from septic shock and from complications from Schizophrenia. While it’s difficult for any author to find the right words that can describe a father’s love for his daughter, Johnson’s book comes as close as possible to describing that love and devotion. He also lost a stepson named Jake who had been visually and hearing impaired, and writes about his love for his stepson as if he was his own flesh and blood. These pages describing his love for his family is void of any self-indulgence or accolades about his career. It’s here that readers see Johnson a loving father rather than the 1986 World Series champ.
Johnson’s biography doesn’t just give a detailed and chronological account of his life, but he recalls these events with clarity while giving credit where credit is due. Whether you’re an Orioles fan, a Mets fan, a sabermetrics enthusiast, or even an admirer of Japanese baseball, baseball fans from all walks of life will find it difficult to put down Davey Johnson: My Wild Ride in Baseball and Beyond.