While the Washington Nationals were sweeping their way through New York last week, a national writer approached manager Davey Johnson and asked him about his future. Johnson chuckled.
With 10 games left in the season — and uncertainty surrounding whether Johnson will return as the manager in 2012 — that query has been lobbed at him more than once. Everyone around him, including his wife, Susan, seems to be pondering it. Yet the one man who isn't, and hasn't, is Johnson.
"That's after the season," Johnson said. "I don't even care, much less want to think about it. I've got my plate full today."
Eighty-five days ago, Johnson stepped into a dugout under a Southern California sun and assumed stewardship of the Nationals. In the months that have passed, he's set about putting his team in the best position possible to succeed.
For a franchise seemingly on the brink of leaving behind the doldrums of its losing past, Johnson's goal has been to answer as many questions and fill as many holes as he can for those constructing the 2012 roster. He's been testing, observing and evaluating — players and coaches — so that when the season ends, he can make recommendations to general manager Mike Rizzo.
"The job I'm doing now, with 30-some-odd guys, is to give them all an opportunity to establish and play to their ability," Johnson said. "To make all these decisions that are made above me easier. To have less question marks. That's what they're paying me for now: to not have that ambiguity.
"I don't want there to be any doubt when they go to make a decision — whether it involves me, or anybody. If that exists, then I'm not doing my job today. The hell with tomorrow or down the road."
As far as Johnson sees it, when Rizzo called him up on a late June weekend and presented an opportunity to be the Nationals' manager as part of a three-year consulting contract, he'd be a manager who always had a dual purpose in mind. He wants to win, of course. He is one of the winningest active managers, and he's the first to point out that the Nationals' 32-41 record since he took over isn't stellar. But he also wants to guide the franchise.
"You can fill a lot with the talent here," he said. Johnson talks almost daily about the holes he's trying to fill and how: using Jayson Werth in center field and Michael Morse in left; enjoying the blossoming of Ian Desmond at the leadoff spot; trying out Chris Marrero at first base and Steve Lombardozzi at various spots in the infield; slotting call-ups Brad Peacock and Tom Milone into the rotation while moving a proven and time-tested Livan Hernandez out of it.
At times, it gives the perception that he's fitting the pieces together and setting it up for someone else to man the dugout next season. Not true, he said. He's doing these things for whomever it is. "Even if it's me."
"I don't think anyone would be upset if he came back next year," said third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, describing Johnson as a hands-off type of manager who "thinks you're a professional and he treats you that way."
"A lot of people respect him," Zimmerman said. "But I've said before, the manager, it is what it is. He doesn't get the hits."
The certainty over Johnson's role ends after 10 more games. "I only know that my managerial contract ends after the season. You only need a manager until the end of this month. Then I'm an advisor." An "in-house advisor," more specifically, and he'll make his opinions known on all offseason decisions — including that of manager — when it's time.
"I'm not 100 percent where everything is on the same page [with the construction of the team], but I have a comfort zone," Johnson said. "I really think when I have it the way I want it, and everything is functioning like a machine, that's usually when they can do without me. It doesn't matter who's standing [in the dugout]. And it looks real simple. It's supposed to."
So again Johnson shrugs off the question of his managerial future.
"I'll either be up there," he said, pointing to the luxury suites at Nationals Park and flashing his oft-present smile before turning to face the dugout. "Or down here."
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