June 16, 2019

Are We There Yet, Davey?

June 27, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

As if in answer to Jim Riggleman, the Nationals gave Davey Johnson a contract that keeps him with the organization through 2013. He manages out 2011 and is in charge of finding a permanent manager. Yet that resolution to the immediate crisis leaves so many things still un-resolved. Who will manage in 2012? Will Davey Johnson be like Dick Cheney when he was put in charge of George Bush’s VP search team in 2000?

If Davey Johnson had been the manager in waiting, the sword of Damocles hanging over Jim Riggleman’s head, then he would have been given the long-term contract Riggleman was asking for, but did not deserve. So, Nationals fans are still left to wonder who is in charge. Like kids in the back seat, fans are left to ask, “Are we there yet?” What does the hiring of Davey Johnson really say about that?

What Johnson represents is one more brick in a well-constructed foundation wall. Since the departure of Jim Bowden the Nationals have slowly, but with increasing certainty, been shoring up what they found after the last vestiges of the MLB, Inc. management team left town. They replaced Cristian Guzman with Ian Desmond. Jose Vidro is now Danny Espinosa. Brian Schneider is Wilson Ramos.

Move around the diamond and the team has consistently upgraded the pieces. Based on the recent trends it looks as if they are building a winner. Davey Johnson, regardless his tenure, only continues that process.

There are aspects of Johnson as manager that will be a welcome change for the team. He has a southerner’s gracious demeanor, sharply contrasting the tight-lipped–though another word could just as easily apply–approach that prevailed under Manny Acta and Jim Riggleman.

I met Johnson this spring. Chip Greene, Greene’s daughter, and I were on the field at Hagerstown, MD for the ‘meet and greet’ that featured Bryce Harper just days before the beginning of the 2011 season. Also on the field that day were some of the Nationals brass including Davey Johnson. The kids were all over Harper and so Chip and I maneuvered ourselves into range of the famous Orioles 2nd baseman hoping to get our shot.

Johnson saw us coming and gave us a big smile that put Chip and I immediately at ease. We shook hands and Chip peppered Johnson with questions about Davey’s playing days in Baltimore. I just grinned and nodded a lot.

If I had a brain in my head, I would have asked him about playing with Hank Aaron the year the great slugger broke the Babe’s record. When I got home I rehearsed all the things I “might” have said. “What was it like to be on the field that day?” Or “What was it like to hit more home runs in 1973 than one of the greatest sluggers ever to play the game?”

Davey Johnson started his career as a winner, playing his rookie season on the 1966 Baltimore Orioles who won the American League pennant and World Series championship. He shared the infield with Luis Aparicio and Brooks Robinson, two of the finest ever to play the game. His career was notable for the four World Series appearances he made with the Orioles during their great run.

As a manager he has been similarly associated with winning organizations, leading the Mets during their best years in the 1980’s and the Orioles when they briefly flirted with contender status in the 1990’s.

When you look at the current managers, few have a better record than Johnson’s. His .564 winning percentage is better than any existing manager’s, except Joe Girardi’s and it ranks him among the top 20 in Major League history. He has not managed as long and successfully as Tony LaRussa, but among the current crop of MLB managers, Davey Johnson has few peers.

Having Johnson as manager cannot be a bad thing even if only for half a season.

We discussed the issue of Johnson as manager with several people that day in Hagerstown. The consensus was that he would be crazy to take on the headaches of managing when he had the perfect job right now. He can dictate his schedule to some degree, work in a golf game whenever he wants one. I expect he gives that up grudgingly and only if the next few months are satisfying will Davey Johnson consider taking the job on a longer term basis.

I hope that proves the case, that the Nationals play well under Johnson and a bond forms that cannot so easily be broken. But whether Davey Johnson starts the 2012 season in the Washington dugout or not, he will have paved the way for a better manager than Jim Riggleman. And whoever is in charge to start the 2012 season will have a pretty fair chance of competing in the NL East for the work Johnson puts in to instill a winning spirit among the young Nationals players this season.

Will we be there yet?  Maybe not, but we are definitely getting closer all the time.

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