WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 07: Manager Davey Johnson #5 congratulates Ryan Zimmerman #11 of the Washington Nationals after he scored during the third inning against the Chicago Cubs at Nationals Park on July 7, 2011 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Washington Nationals manager Davey Johnson stands silently at the top of the dugout steps most games like a baseball Stonewall Jackson and amidst a tough and incredible early 2012 season, he is easily the team's most valuable asset.
I am the type of guy who likes to give credit when credit is due and I have to credit Thomas "One Week I'm Happy, The Next I'm Doom and Gloom" Boswell for the article in Tuesday morning's Washington Post. In it, Boz goes down the list of the nightmarish scenarios the 2012 Washington Nationals have had to endure due to injuries and Acts of God. But somehow, he continues, through the trials and tribulations they have come together as a fledgling perennial contending ball club.
For Boswell, it was a relatively slap-happy piece. It almost makes me want to take Steve Lombardozzi out for a romantic date consisting of hitting the batting cages, lobster at Bonefish, and unmentionable actions of pure lust and fanboyism late at night in a room at the local Super 8. Almost. This is a Boswell piece and even in the most positive of writings there is always a vein of subtext that is dark and ominous. He can't seem to avoid it. On top of it all, I think he made one mistake that I will look to remedy right now. Boswell listed off a good many reasons for the Nationals astounding continued success, but he failed to give credit where credit is certainly due.
I remember the first time I heard Nats manager Davey Johnson speak. It was a few games into his new tenure as Nats skipper, but after he started 0-3 before getting his first win at the helm of the Curly W Machine. I don't know what he was talking about, I couldn't tell you. No, seriously, I couldn't tell you because I couldn't understand a word he said. I had to lean over and tap the guy next to me on the shoulder and ask, "What did he just say?" Johnson has a way of talking so that when he gets into deep, comfortable conversation all the words start to come together and get lost in the delivery. It sort of reminds me of getting peanut butter stuck on the roof of my mouth and still trying to have discourse while attempting to dislodge the goo with my tongue. This is the reason why I refer to Johnson as "Peanut Butter Mouth" in places like my blog.
I left that first meeting shaking my head. Here were the Nats, barely weeks removed from Jim Riggleman spazzing out and caving to the pressures of running a Major League club, trying to scrape their way out of the doldrums of the NL East, and General Manager Mike Rizzo puts out this 68-year old codger who hardly could be understood in charge. Never mind the fact that he looked like he couldn't even balance himself on the dugout steps without being blown off by a gust of wind. Johnson's appointment to the job was a long time suspected and coming and it was like he rode a white horse into Washington, but I couldn't help but think the team had placed yet another bizarre character on the field, in the same vein as Jim Bowden, Lenny Harris or a costumed theme park mascot. For a while, it looked that way. After every botched play, bad pitch or swinging K, you'd find Johnson silently standing at the top of the dugout steps, hunched over on one knee just staring at the game unfolding before him. You pretty much found him the same way after something positive, except he'd be the first one to raise his hand for a high five.
Fast forward to 2012. Johnson standing at the top of those dugout steps has become symbolic. You don't really see a 69-year old man there. Johnson taking his place is now a symbol of confidence, stoutness, fortitude and unfathomable knowledge. He is no reed, he will not bend with the wind. He will push him, his team and the whole of Washington baseball culture forward with him, against the wind and any challenge that stands before him. He has become the manager that the Nationals need and deserve.
The Nationals have had managers since baseball returned to D.C., but each had flaws that prevented them from truly sticking in Washington. Frank Robinson was tough, but his own legend sometimes got in the way of what was going on. Manny Acta was a snot-nose who sometimes didn't look like he knew what he was doing and was always waiting for a "spark" to ignite the faltering squad rather than creating it on his own. Then Riggleman-- well, there was Riggleman.
Johnson has offered the Nationals something the other managers did not: stability and belief. Johnson certainly sticks up for his players. His support of Drew Storen, Henry Rodriguez, Jayson Werth and Ian Desmond is well documented, and who was the first guy in the organization to say Bryce Harper should be in the big leagues? You know who. And Johnson isn't fearful of making hard decisions either, even if they go against his own heart. The promotion and demotion of Rodriguez is a fine example that Johnson is going to do everything it takes to win. Johnson has also always believed that his team is going to make the playoffs. He does not half-ass anything by declaring .500 to be the goal. Johnson has so far been silent, strict, supporting and stupendous on his dugout stairs and deserves as much praise as anyone on the team or in the organization for the Nationals' rise.
Credit should be given when credit is due.
Praise for Davey Johnson is long overdue.