After taking over on the bench and leading the Washington Nationals through the second half of the 2011 season, Davey Johnson boldly predicted that the Washington Nationals would win the pennant in 2012 when he talked to reporters after it was announced that he would return for another season on the bench.
Johnson then doubled down and told CSNWashington.com's Kelli Johnson during Spring Training that the Nats could fire him if the team didn't make the postseason. Johnson was sure the roster he and D.C. GM Mike Rizzo put together could compete in the NL East. "No question in my mind," Davey Johnson said, and if the Nats didn't make it to the playoffs, the manager added, "They can fire me.'"
"We should make the playoffs," Davey Johnson said before the season even started, "There's no doubt in my mind." The Nats' manager, in his 16th season on the bench in the majors, led the Nationals to a 98-64 record, their first NL East title and the first postseason appearance by a D.C.-based team in 79 years. Reminded of those comments tonight after he was named the NL Manager of the Year by the Baseball Writers' Association of America, Johnson, in an appearance on the MLB Network, said he was setting his sights a little higher in 2013, which he has previously said will be his last season on the bench before he moves back into a consultant's role with the Nats.
"We're going to go farther," Johnson said, and prompted by the hosts, he added, "World Series or bust. It's going to be my last year anyway."
The Nats' 69-year-old skipper earned the praise of the Nats' general manager for the work he did with the Nats in 2012. Mike Rizzo congratulated the manager in a press release after Johnson was named NL MOY:
"Davey Johnson’s legacy was secure well before he became our manager in 2011, but his performance this season has to rate among his best work" said Mike Rizzo, Nationals Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations and General Manager. "He showed this club how to win despite being engaged in a pennant race for the first time. And he accomplished this with so many young players. It is no coincidence that under Davey’s watch, we witnessed breakout seasons from Ian Desmond, Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler. I would like to offer my deepest congratulations and thanks to Davey and his family on behalf of the Lerner Family and our entire organization."
In a teleconference after Johnson was named the BBWAA NL Manager of the Year, the Nationals' manager told reporters again that he thought there was room for improvement in 2013. The Nats had a great year, they're being recognized for that now with Bryce Harper named NL Rookie of the Year yesterday and Johnson Manager of the Year today, but as Johnson said, "I still feel that we have a higher ceiling. That we can do better and I'm looking forward to that challenge. And I hope Gio [Gonzalez] wins the Cy Young."
"Individual awards don't mean a whole lot to me," Johnson continued, "But you like to see players get recognized when they do something good. And guys really didn't overachieve, they played up to their potential and not everybody. There's still a higher ceiling there for a lot of those players, so it was a fun year for me. I look for, with another year of experience, that it's going to set us up to be even stronger and better and that's the good news."
As for the way the 2012 season went, the Nats' skipper said he spent the last few years before he took over on the bench getting to know the organization and he was confident that they could do just what they did last season, win the NL East and get to the postseason. "My evaluation of the talent after the 2011 season," Johnson said, "I think it was pretty correct. Some baseball people thought maybe I was blowing smoke, but the guys all played closer to the level and we won the [division]. That was expected."
"I thought we'd go further," Johnson said, "We had a little blip there at the end. I think inexperience cost us in several ways, but it was a good stepping stone. There's more to come. And I think everyone to a man knows it. This award that I got tonight, to me, is more a reflection of the organization than on me. I'm just kind of the guy that tries to keep them on track. And as a manager, if you do that you can be proud of yourself. I don't think we lost anybody, I think everybody kind of came close to doing what they were capable of doing, but there's still a higher ceiling and that's the challenge I'm looking forward [to] for next year. So, this is just kind of a step along the way as far as I'm concerned."