By:Kevin Jones. 6/27/2011. 1:31 PM
Believe it or not, I am the last member of the media to spend several months of my life covering a baseball team managed by Davey Johnson, the newly hired skipper of the Washington Nationals.
One year ago Johnson was the manager of the Sanford River Rats, a summer league college baseball team right outside of the Orlando area. I was the team broadcast-journalist and by the power invested to me from the Florida Collegiate Summer League, it was my duty to interview Johnson before and after games.
Here are five things you probably don’t know about Davey Johnson. All of these are reasons why I believe the Washington Nationals will finish above .500 in the regular season.
1) Davey loves baseball more than you love anything in your entire life. After his initial retirement in 2000, it was impossible for the former World Series winning manager to say goodbye to the game. He came back to manage the US team in 2006 for the World Baseball Classic. He came back to manage the USA Olympic squad in 2008 over in Beijing and decided he loved tutoring college kids the fundamentals that he thought “were disappearing from today’s game of baseball.” Johnson then decided to accept an invitation from the FCSL where he could coach baseball during the summers of 2009 and 2010 but still have a long and relaxing offseason with his wife Susan.
2) Even though he has had just three losing seasons in is 14-year managing career, Johnson has been fired from all four of his previous managing gigs—Mets, Reds, Orioles and Dodgers. Johnson is his own agent and is also the ultimate players coach. He often has rocky relationships with owners and management because of how they mistreated HIS players. That shouldn’t happen in Washington because he is still under contract as a consultant in the front office.
3) Johnson was a helluva ballplayer himself, with a majority of his glory years coming in an Oriole uniform. A four-time all-star, a three-time Gold Glove winner, and a record tying 43 home runs for a second baseman put Johnson in the class as one of the best players of his generation. He was also the last batter the legendary Sandy Koufax ever faced during the 1966 World Series.
4) Davey nearly died in 2005 at the age of 62, when he kept having horrific stomach pains. It turned out that he had an appendicitis months ago, but his body kept fighting the infection. Johnson is 25 pounds lighter and healthier than he was during his old managing days.
5) Davey missed just two games last season as the coach of the River Rats. The first was when he flew back to Washington DC to see Stephen Strasburg’s debut. During the stunning performance, Johnson was seated right next to Strasburg’s parents in the Lerner’s box. The other game he missed was when he was inducted into the Mets hall of fame. I guess those are legitimate excuses.
Davey is not a man of many words. He isn’t going to preach to his players. He’s going to let them do their job, he’s going to analyze statistics for them but most importantly he’s going to let them have fun. When you are losing, baseball is a high-strung sport with lots of animosity in the locker room. Davey knows how to combat losing and rarely will allow his teams to slump. When the Nats start struggling—something that is inevitable —he will blame himself for making the mistakes, not his players.
DJ once told me that the only way he would go back to the major leagues is if “the situation were perfect.” He’s declined many other opportunities to manage or bench coach throughout the past decade. I can almost guarantee Johnson will be back to manage in 2012 too. Why wouldn’t he want to coach a modern day Randy Johnson and Ken Griffey Jr.? I’m willing to gamble a lot of money that Bryce Harper will be the opening day centerfielder.