Jeff Marquis - Flickr

Davey Johnson

Davey Johnson won two World Series as a player with the Orioles and another as manager of the Mets. A pioneer in the use of sabermetrics as a manager, Johnson also understood the value in letting leaders police themselves in the clubhouse. In this excerpt of Davey Johnson: My Wild Ride in Baseball and Beyond, Johnson and co-author Erik Sherman explore how the skills and smarts of Keith Hernandez played such a valuable role in the effort to rebuild the Mets in the 80s.

Early in the 1984 season, GM Frank Cashen took a seat in my office -- concerned about something he had just observed.

"We have a disjointed clubhouse," he said. "Should we make it smaller?"

"No, Frank," I said. "Everybody just needs to know his role on the ballclub and they'll be fine."

Davey Johnson Book Cover "Well, Keith (Hernandez) likes to do crossword puzzles and he's a Civil War buff, and ... "

"Who cares about that?" I interrupted. "Just let everybody do their own thing."

I basically wanted the guys to come to the ballpark and enjoy being in the clubhouse. I wanted it to be fun for them and even more comfortable than being in their own homes with all their kids running around. And if there was ever an issue, I would always tell Keith and later Gary Carter, "You guys handle it." I didn't want to be the one monitoring minor clubhouse problems. And I never wanted to have an environment where there was a whole lot of policing going on.

Keith was a big help to me that first year -- both on the field and as a clubhouse presence. He was the true captain of the Mets before I made it official following the '86 season.

And as a player, they didn't come any better.

Defensively, Keith was the best first baseman I've ever seen. I don't know how anyone could be any better at fielding ground balls and throwing to different bases. And he was like having an extra coach in the infield, with his visits to the mound to talk to a pitcher -- slowing down the pace of the game.

At the plate, he was a pure .300 line-drive hitter. And he wasn't just smart and talented, but he loved the game and made it fun. He enjoyed playing little games with the opposing pitchers. When he knew they were trying to make him hit into a double play when runners were on first and second or when the bases were loaded, he would tell me something like, "They're going to try to throw me down and away and that's just where I want it. I'm going to hit a line drive over the shortstop's head."

Keith Hernandez And then he would do it.

And if he knew a guy was going to try to jam him, he would use a little bat that was two inches shorter than the ones he normally hit with. Well, he would take “shortie” up there, get around on the pitch, and sometimes drive it over the right-field wall.

Other times, when he wasn’t feeling right at the plate, and with a man on, he would tell me he was swinging first pitch and to put the hit-and-run on. It was just so enjoyable having him on the club. I didn't have to coach him on anything.

We had other capable veterans, too -- players whom I was definitely interested in keeping on the ballclub. Guys like Mookie Wilson, an electric, 100 percent gamer; George Foster, a winning ballplayer with tremendous power; and Hubie Brooks, a very underrated third baseman and hitter who drove the ball to all fields with authority. Brooks was also an especially fun guy to be around.

And then there was Darryl Strawberry -- a player with unlimited, yet not completely realized, potential -- now in his second year. I really tried to be like a father to him in a lot of ways. And one of the things a father has to be is firm -- especially when a son does something you don't like.

Darryl Strawberry SI Cover 1984 I once told Darryl, "You can't stay out late. You can't drink all night. And you can't have sex all night. You've got to cut it to one out of three."

I realize he was probably doing all those things to help him deal with the pressure of being a young superstar in New York. And it didn't help when, like in Doc Gooden's case as well, his homeboys were saying stuff like, "You've outgrown us. You're not my friend anymore because you're bigger than me."

I wasn’t going to go out looking for him and drag him out of places. He was a grown man. But when that kind of behavior had him coming late to the ballpark or not hustling on the ballfield, I had to do things like fine him. But even with the fines, I tried to be fatherly. We used his fines as donations for charities so he could help others while writing it off on his taxes.

We practically supported an entire orphanage with his fine money.

But I think what really held him back was his thinking that because he was the No. 1 pick in the country, in his mind, he was as good as he needed to be. It's not that he didn’t work hard -- he did -- but I don't think he wanted to be the greatest player he could be. He didn't strive to lead the league in hitting or home runs or any category. The telltale deal was when he hit 39 home runs in '87 but sat out two of the last three games. He didn't care about reaching the 40-homer plateau.

Anyway, Straw was still an awfully good player and one of the building blocks in making our club a winner.

-- Excerpted by permission from Davey Johnson: My Wild Ride in Baseball and Beyond by Davey Johnson with Erik Sherman. Copyright (c) 2018. Published by Triumph Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Available for purchase from the publisher, Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Follow Davey Johnson on Twitter @TheDaveyJohnson. Follow Erik Sherman on Twitter @ShermBaseball.