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Johnson wants to win the World Series because that’s what he believes his team is capable of. He wants to win it because, well, it’s what every man who’s ever buttoned up a baseball uniform wants.

But there is an added weight to his desire. If the Nationals do it, if Johnson pulls what he’s taken to calling “A La Russa” — a reference to former St. Louis manager Tony La Russa, who retired days after the Cardinals’ 2011 championship — his case for enshrinement in Cooperstown goes from compelling to downright fascinating.

“This year is important,” said Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer, Johnson’s teammate during their days with the Baltimore Orioles. “He’s not worried about the Hall of Fame, but you can tie the Mets era to the present era with a World Series championship.

“What a beautiful present it could be. The 2013 season could be the bow to a terrific career.”

 When the Baltimore Orioles selected a baby-faced high school catcher from Illinois with their first pick in the 1997 draft, they brought him to Camden Yards and let him sit on the bench during a game. He marveled at the Orioles’ manager.

Sixteen years later, Jayson Werth looks down the Nationals’ bench and sees the same guy.

“I had no business being there. I was like 18 years old, green as the field,” Werth said. “And he hit me on the leg and said something like, ‘Watch this.’ I don’t remember exactly what it was, but I remember him being right. And I was like, ‘Whoa, look at this guy.’

“My thoughts haven’t changed a whole lot since then.”

Johnson doesn’t like to talk about his past all that much. But one night this spring, his brother, Fred, got him to musing over when they were kids in the Babe Ruth League. Fred was 13, Davey 10.

The team didn’t have a right fielder, so it tabbed Davey. The uniform top ended down around his ankles. “I was a little runt in right field,” he said. But when a towering fly ball was hit out there with the game on the line, Johnson caught it and trotted in, wondering what the big deal was. He’d been doing that with Fred for years.

“He got me to reminiscing about things 60 years ago,” Johnson said, his cocksure nature having changed little from that afternoon as a preteen. “And that was kind of fun.”

Mostly Johnson uses his past as a tool with his players, conveying to them an anecdote from a time he dealt with a similar situation. “Experiences give you insight into solutions for today,” he says. And he’ll often regale listeners with a story when he wants to get a laugh.

Most of the memorabilia from his glory days — mementos from 13 years in the major leagues and two in Japan; managerial stints with five major league teams and forays into international competition — are hidden away in a closet at his home in Winter Park, Fla. He jokes that his wife, Susan, is waiting until he dies so she can sell it and make some money off him.

There are easy ways to tell the story of his success. Johnson won two World Series rings as a player with the Orioles, was a four-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glove winner. He hit 43 home runs in 1973 and is the only man to have had the honor of protecting two home run kings: Hank Aaron and Sadaharu Oh.

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