- The Washington Times - Friday, June 9, 2006

When Washington Nationals general manager Jim Bowden announced Davey Johnson was hired as a special consultant, Bowden might as well have walked into a crowded movie theater and shouted, “Fire.”

“Davey in the house” has that kind of impact.

Bowden insists his former manager in Cincinnati, who also led the New York Mets to the 1986 World Series championship and the Orioles to two American League Championship Series appearances during his time in Baltimore, is not a manager-in-waiting for the Nationals.

“Frank Robinson is the manager,” Bowden said. “[Johnson] is not going to manage the Washington Nationals. So nobody should read into this that that’s the case.”

OK. We won’t pay attention to the 500-pound elephant in the room.

Johnson will be evaluating and scouting young players who could wind up the targets of trades when the club, as expected, offers some of its higher-priced veterans for prospects to shore up the depleted farm system. It is a temporary assignment, they say, and backing Bowden’s comments, Johnson said he has no designs on managing the Nationals.

“Frank is doing a good job,” Johnson said. “He doesn’t have to worry about me. That is not what this is about. I will be getting my thrills watching young players and evaluating talent, but not having 50 writers around second-guessing me.

“Managing is not on my radar. I am looking for a job that you can’t be fired from.”

That’s what always made Johnson so interesting — that he was great at managing everyone but himself, and was fired by the Mets, the Reds, and his last employer, the Dodgers in 2000. (Everyone assumes he was fired by Orioles owner Peter Angelos, but in fact Johnson resigned before the final year of his three-year contract, though the tension between the two would have made a difficult, if not interesting, 1998 season).

Johnson may very well be doing what he and Bowden say he is doing, and nothing more. He has a passion for player development. People forget he was the manager who led those young Dwight Gooden-Darryl Strawberry Mets teams through the minor leagues and up to New York. And when he was in Baltimore, he and general manager Pat Gillick had visions of bringing the Orioles’ minor league system back to its glory days.

And, after recovering from an undetected ruptured appendix that nearly killed him, Johnson has been heavily involved with Team USA baseball, managing a team of young players to a 5-0 record in November to advance to the Americas Olympic qualifier in August in Havana. He also was the bench coach for the American team in the World Baseball Classic.

“Coming back from the WBC earlier this year, I ran into Jim and we talked about the possibility of doing something,” Johnson said. “This is sort of what I have been doing anyway, looking at young talent and players. I know the best young talent around. I will be scouting as a special assistant to the general manager, looking at players while working with USA Baseball. I am looking forward to it. I was enjoying what I was doing, but I was kind of bored.”

He may have been bored, but he is never boring, and he and Bowden together would be a heck of a show — a columnist’s dream. Bowden loves Johnson and has said Johnson taught him more about pitching when the two were together in Cincinnati than any other manager with whom he has worked. And Johnson liked working with Bowden, who he thought was creative and willing to gamble.

And now Johnson is on the payroll. He is on the shelf, sitting right up there, one of the most successful managers in the game in the past 25 years, with a .564 winning percentage. Bobby Cox has a .566 percentage, through last season. Tony LaRussa has compiled a .537 percentage, as of 2005. But the Nationals are going to use Johnson as a scout.

So we’ll just ignore this part of the press release issued by the team, which listed no scouting achievements but did go into detail about his managing record: “Johnson skippered the Mets to a World Series championship in 1986 and to a division title in 1988. He then led the Reds under then-General Manager Jim Bowden to back-to-back division championships in 1994 and 1995. Johnson also took the Orioles to the division title in 1997, a feat that earned him American League Manager of the Year honors.”

Robinson, who was told about Johnson’s hiring by a reporter a few hours before Wednesday night’s game in Atlanta, said yesterday he had no comment about it. “It doesn’t affect me,” he said, as the flames shot up all around him.

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