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Johnson the right(hand) man for the job

New Nationals manager steps out of front office and into the dugout

FILE - In this March 6, 2010, photo, Davey Johnson, second from right, a senior adviser for the Washington Nationals, stands in the dugout during a spring training baseball game against the New York Mets in Viera, Fla. Johnson was announced as the manager of the Nationals on Sunday, June 26, 2011, three days after Jim Riggleman stunned the team by resigning. Johnson will manage the rest of the season and his first game will be Monday against the Los Angeles Angels. (AP Photo/Rob Carr, File)FILE - In this March 6, 2010, photo, Davey Johnson, second from right, a senior adviser for the Washington Nationals, stands in the dugout during a spring training baseball game against the New York Mets in Viera, Fla. Johnson was announced as the manager of the Nationals on Sunday, June 26, 2011, three days after Jim Riggleman stunned the team by resigning. Johnson will manage the rest of the season and his first game will be Monday against the Los Angeles Angels. (AP Photo/Rob Carr, File)
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CHICAGO — Less than an hour before the Washington Nationals took the field to play the White Sox on Sunday afternoon, general manager Mike Rizzo addressed his team. Three days of uncertainty behind them, Rizzo spoke of the Nationals' past and its future. Davey Johnson would be their new manager, he told the players, and then he thanked interim manager John McLaren.

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."

The applause mainly was for McLaren, who met with players in small groups to say goodbye.

In less than 72 hours, the Nationals went from being guided 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 impeccable credentials. On Monday in Anaheim, the Nationals will 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 acknowledged 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 in people such as 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.. He has served as an adviser to Rizzo since 2009 and spent time with players at all levels.

Johnson was expected meet the team in Chicago and fly with it 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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