CHICAGO | Less than an hour before the Nationals took the field to play the White Sox Sunday afternoon, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo addressed his team. Three days of craziness and uncertainty behind them, Rizzo spoke of the team's past and its future. Davey Johnson would be their new manager, he told them, and then he thanked interim manager John McLaren for all he'd done for the organization.
Applause was audible from outside the closed clubhouse doors.
"It was an extremely positive reaction," Rizzo said of the meeting. "They all know Davey. They know his resume just talking to him. The respect that he has in that room, even before he sets foot in there as manager, is second to none."
While the applause was mainly directed at the outgoing and well-liked McLaren, who met with players in small groups all morning to say his own personal goodbyes and noted how emotional the past few days have been for him, the sentiment encompassed it all.
In less than 72 hours, the Nationals went from being stewarded to one of their best marks by a man with one of the worst career managerial records in the game, Jim Riggleman, to being led by a man with a nearly unparalleled track record. Monday afternoon in Anaheim, the Nationals will officially become the fifth organization to place Johnson at the helm. In 14 seasons as a major league manager, he's 1,148-888 and only three times has he ever finished anywhere other than first or second place.
"We are extraordinarily fortunate to have Davey Johnson as a member of our staff and one who can provide so much immediate leadership and credibility," Nationals principal owner Ted Lerner said in a statement. "He has been valuable as an advisor, and he'll be even more valuable as our field manager. I believe our fans and our players will love having him at the helm and will feel confident with his leadership."
Johnson signed a three-year consulting contract with the Nationals that covers 2011-2013 and there are no guarantees that he will be the team's manager in any season after the current one. The Nationals will open a managerial search this offseason and Johnson will be both a candidate and a decision-maker in that search. Should he become the team's choice for 2012, the club holds an option to transition from a consultant contract to a managerial one for that season.
The move is one Rizzo admitted he had in the back of his mind when he asked Johnson to join his front office staff. He noted that you "try and surround yourself with the best possible people that you can," and that he specifically brought people like Johnson and assistant GM Bob Boone, who also has managerial experience, because of their ability to handle multiple roles.
"I leaned on [Johnson] for a lot of things in the two years he [has been] here and I feel fortunate that he was in arm's reach when I needed him most," Rizzo said. "Davey, as I call him, is part of the furniture in the Mike Rizzo regime, if you will. He'll be here as long as I'm around because that's how much I feel for him and think of him."
From the moment Rizzo was able to digest Riggleman's abrupt resignation Thursday, Johnson was the first [-] and largely only [-] man he wanted for the job. A former American League Manager of the Year and World Series winner, Johnson also knows the organization after serving as an advisor to Rizzo since 2009 and spending time with players at all levels.
Johnson was expected meet the team at the airport in Chicago and fly on the team plane to Anaheim, an arrangement that culminated a tumultuous weekend in the best possible way for Rizzo.
"The end result has been remarkable," he said. "I think my staff has done a remarkable job of holding this thing together in real trying times. [...] [McLaren] kept things together [-] the bridge to Davey Johnson, if you will [-] and we feel that we've put this thing together and got a guy in there that is the perfect person for this organization and this job in very short order."
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