- - Tuesday, October 4, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION

Davey Johnson had been working around the fringes of the major league game —consultant, amateur coaching, the Olympics — since being fired as manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2000.

Before that, he had been a fixture in major league dugouts nearly every season from 1984 through 2000, running four different teams, taking three of them to the playoffs, and one of them, the New York Mets, to the World Series title in 1986. He won one American League Manager of the Year award in the process.

It was an impressive resume: 1,148 wins, 888 losses — one of the best winning percentages among managers with more than 1,000 wins. But a Hall of Fame resume?

Maybe. Like his managing career in the 21st century, it was on the fringes. He was gone and he was forgotten.

Then Jim Riggleman decided to battle Washington Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo over his contract extension in the middle of the 2011 season. Rizzo fired Riggleman, called Johnson, and asked him to come manage the Nationals.

Johnson answered that call by taking yet another team to the postseason, with a National League East title in 2012, and by winning another Manager of the Year honor, this one in the National League.

Johnson’s stint in Washington bumped his career record to 1,372 wins, 1,071 losses — a .562 winning percentage over 17 seasons — and put him back on the major league stage. It may have been enough to put him in Cooperstown.

And this same job — manager of the Washington Nationals — may wind up being the one that puts Dusty Baker over the top as well as a Hall of Fame manager. A successful playoff run here, as the Nationals open the division series Friday against the Dodgers, that leads to a World Series championship, which has eluded Baker, would certainly seal the deal.

The Hall of Fame released its Game Era ballot on Monday and Johnson was among the 10 names up for consideration for election to Cooperstown. The vote will take place on Dec. 5, right down the road at the Baseball Winter Meetings at National Harbor.

“I’d vote for him (Johnson) for the Hall of Fame tomorrow,” Rizzo said. “He’s turned teams around, he’s won Manager of the Year … to me, the Hall of Fame is for the best of the best, and he is in that team photo.”

So is Baker, according to Rizzo. “Dusty is a Hall of Famer also,” he said.

Johnson said he was humbled to be considered for the Hall of Fame. “It is a great honor,” he said. “I never really think about personal rewards. I always took satisfaction in the fact that players played good for me and played up to their potential.”

Johnson and Baker go back to the days when they were teammates on the Atlanta Braves. “He (Baker) hit behind Henry (Aaron) when he broke the record (Babe Ruth’s 714 career home runs) and I hit behind Dusty,” Johnson said. “He’s done a great job there in Washington. He’s been outstanding. I’ve watched all their games. I hope they go a lot further than we did in 2012 (when the Nationals lost in five games to the St. Louis Cardinals in the division series).”

Baker believes Johnson is a Hall of Fame manager. “He should be (in there),” Baker said.

Baker also spoke of his own Hall of Fame aspirations.

“I started thinking about it when I started passing guys that are already in the Hall of Fame,” Baker said after Tuesday’s workout at Nationals Park in preparation for Friday’s division series opener. “I didn’t think about it before then. But then every day in Cincinnati I was passing somebody who was there already. Yes, I’d like to be the first African-American manager in the Hall of Fame.”

Baker has taken teams to the playoffs with four different organizations — the San Francisco Giants, Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds and now the Nationals. He has a National League pennant on his resume with the 2002 Giants, three NL Manager of the Year awards and a career record of 1,766 wins and 1,571 losses for a .529 winning percentage over 21 seasons. He ranks 17th all time in managing victories, ahead of Hall of Famers like Tommy Lasorda and Earl Weaver.

That is a Hall of Fame career. But taking this Nationals team to a World Series title takes all doubt out of the debate.

Someday Baker and Johnson could be side by side on the stage at Cooperstown — just as they were in the batting order of the 1974 Braves — thanks to managing the Washington Nationals.

• Thom Loverro hosts his weekly podcast “Cigars & Curveballs” Wednesdays available on iTunes and Google Play.

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