WASHINGTON (AP) - Washington Nationals center fielder Bryce Harper is 19 and looks and sounds the part, from his Mohawkish haircut to his tattoos and well-documented “clown question” `tude.
His manager, Davey Johnson, is 69 and looks and sounds the part, from his graying hair and leathery skin to the near-whisper speaking voice that delivers tales of chatting with Ted Williams about hitting.
Yes, Johnson and Harper were born a half-century apart. One’s the oldest skipper in the majors. The other put together the best season by a teenage hitter since the 1960s. Able to meet somewhere in the middle, and united by a supreme sense of self-confidence, they helped Washington build the best record in baseball in 2012 _ and both figure to get plenty of attention when the club’s NL division series starts Sunday at defending World Series champion St. Louis.
“Davey has such a young mindset, and Harp is such a throwback. It works,” said Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo, who selected Harper with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 amateur draft, and turned to Johnson when then-manager Jim Riggleman abruptly resigned midway through last season.
“It’s an amazing relationship that they have. It’s a father-son, mentor-type of relationship,” Rizzo said. “There’s great respect on Harp’s part for Davey, and there’s great affection from Davey to Harp.”
Spend some time talking with Washington’s strong contenders for NL Manager of the Year and NL Rookie of the Year, and the mutual admiration comes through immediately, perhaps because they see similarities.
Between bites of a plate of berries, Johnson praised Harper _ whose 22 homers this season are the second-most by a teen in big league history _ as “a very smart young man,” and noted, “He’s not just talented; he studies things, which is really impressive.”
“He’s been around the game for a long, long time. Everybody knows that _ and everybody’s going to listen to him,” Harper said. “That’s huge for the whole team.”
Harper also gets a kick from the way Johnson _ the last ballplayer to get a hit off Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax _ sounds like an old-timer while yelling, “Whack-o!” in the dugout after one of the Nationals drives a ball over the wall.
“Every time he says that, when we hit a homer or something, everybody starts laughing. It’s from back when he played,” Harper said, chuckling at the thought. “He likes homers. Of course he does. Everybody does. But it’s relaxing to have a manager that is all for his team and lets you go through struggles and lets you play it out and lets you succeed.”
Their ages, both agree, are irrelevant.
“It’s not how old I am. It’s how I treat him every day,” Johnson said. “And he doesn’t want any special treatment. He wants to be treated just like everybody else.”
“You could sense a little cockiness about him,” Johnson said, an undercurrent of admiration in his words.