The sun beat down on the field at Space Coast Stadium one day this spring as Washington Nationals manager Davey Johnson approached his second baseman. Danny Espinosa was busy doing infield work during batting practice, fielding ground balls and practicing his footwork.
Johnson stopped and chatted with Espinosa for a few minutes. Then he made his way to the other side of the diamond in Viera, Fla. He stopped and talked with shortstop Ian Desmond.
“There he goes,” said Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo, watching from the dugout railing. “Davey’s having his team meeting right now.”
This is what Johnson does. At 70, the oldest manager in the majors still fills each of his days with talking and teaching in his own unique way.
It’s when the conversation is turned toward him, when the topic of what his legacy in this game might be is raised, that Johnson becomes less comfortable.
“I don’t really like talking about me,” he said. “Because it’s not about me.
“I don’t think it matters. I don’t look like it matters, I don’t act like matters, I don’t want [the players] to think it matters.”
Johnson paused every few moments as he spoke, glancing out at the field to keep an eye on each of his disciples taking batting practice and spitting out some of the tobacco juice collecting in his mouth.
Both were habits Johnson formed long ago, early in his 50-plus years in the game. He doesn’t plan to stop either anytime soon.
“I have to gain their respect every day,” he said. “And their trust. And they’ve got to do that with me.”
There is a question that hangs over Johnson, though, as he begins what he and the Nationals have mutually agreed will be his final season in the dugout. He has said for months that his exit means it’s “World Series or bust” for the Nationals and he would love to go out in style.
So, if this is the end for one of the game’s greatest characters, how will history view him?
“Don’t you think Davey wants to be in the Hall of Fame?” one of his players wondered aloud recently.
If he does, he won’t say.
He won’t even acknowledge thinking about it.”Oh, not at all,” he said emphatically. “Not at all.”