Frank Cashen ate his words and is bringing back Davey Johnson to manage the New York Mets.

Johnson signed a three-year contract Thursday, a year after Cashen told him his contract would not be extended beyond 1988."Davey will complete his contract, but he will relinquish the managerial post after next season," Cashen said on the final Saturday of the 1987 season. "This is being done at his request."

Johnson said during the winter that he wanted to return and after the Mets won the National League East with a 100-62 record, Cashen decided to let him. And decided to apologize.

"I would certainly have not had that public discussion about Davey's future. It was the wrong time to discuss it," Cashen said. "That misunderstanding that occurred was certainly my fault. I apologized to Davey. Davey was saying one thing. I was understanding he said something else."

Cashen and Johnson could not, or would not, recall exactly what their differences were.

"We haven't figured that out yet," Cashen said. "If we did, we would never have had the misunderstandings we had."

Johnson's contract will begin at around $430,000 a year. The Mets have an option for 1992.

"I don't think there is a more difficult challenge in baseball than managing the New York Mets," Johnson said. "I want the biggest challenge. But if it wasn't meant to be, I would have survived."

Johnson angered Cashen with his brash manner, but was more relaxed at spring training this year. The Mets went 100-60 to win the National League East before losing to Los Angeles in a seven-game playoff.

"Expectations are always going to be great and I like that," Johnson said. "I like people perceiving that we are the best and we are the team to beat."

The Mets are 488-320 since Johnson took over before the 1984 season, baseball's best record over that period. They won the 1986 World Series championship.

"His record speaks for itself," Cashen said. "I'd like to have a contending team for years to come. I can't imagine having anybody lead the team but Davey."