In the weeks since the Washington Nationals’ season ended unceremoniously, Davey Johnson hasn’t spent too much time reliving how it all unraveled. There was too much for him to do around his Florida home. Too many things to fix. A fishing tournament to win. A charity golf tournament to help plan.
Saturday morning he took one more step toward next year and away from the Nationals’ Game 5 loss in the National League Division Series. The Nationals and Johnson culminated a long negotiating process when they formally announced the manager’s return to the dugout for the 2013 season.
And while both sides had left little doubt about that outcome throughout, their announcement came without ambiguity for the future as well. The 2013 season will be Johnson’s last as the Nationals’ manager and he will shift into a consultant’s role for the remainder of his current contract, which runs through 2014.
“I think everybody’s comfortable with it,” Johnson said in a telephone interview, on the announcement that this season would likely be his last in the dugout. “I’m comfortable with it.
“We’ve got some unfinished business. I think we can be better. I know we can be better. So I’m all fired up.”
The Nationals and Johnson had been close to finalizing the deal for some time, with Nationals’ general manager Mike Rizzo saying earlier this week that an announcement could come “anytime now.” Johnson’s consulting contract ensured that he’d be part of the organization but the language, structure and salary of his managerial contract needed some ironing out before they could make it official.
While they’re in agreement that this will be his final season as manager, there is, of course, always room for a change of heart.
“People say a lot of things,” said bench coach Randy Knorr, likely the leading candidate to assume the managerial job after Johnson departs. “You just let the year play out. If we have another good year he might want to do it again.
“He’s great. He’s the best I’ve ever been around at managing a baseball game, but you’ve just got to play it out. I think (his return) is great for the team. He takes care of us and makes us all feel special. I love being around him. I learned so much from him.”
Johnson, who will turn 70 in January and remains baseball’s oldest manager, is one of three finalists for the BBWAA Manager of the Year award after leading the Nationals to the NL East crown. He was relieved to get his 2013 contract settled before Tuesday’s announcement as the last time Johnson took home Manager of the Year honors he was fired by the Baltimore Orioles on the same day in a contract dispute.
“I’m glad I dodged that bullet,” Johnson joked. “That would’ve been the kiss of death.”
This situation was a different, though. Johnson, who dealt with various medical issues in the past, has been significantly re-energized since taking over as the Nationals’ manager in 2011 following Jim Riggleman’s abrupt mid-season resignation. Johnson said previously if his health and his wife, Susan, were on board, and the Nationals still wanted him, there was no reason why he wouldn’t return.
Johnson has now led four different organizations to the playoffs and will go into the 2013 season looking for his second World Series championship ring as a manager. He won his first with the New York Mets in 1986 and also won two rings as a player with the Baltimore Orioles.
Should he indeed retire after the 2013 season – and should he do it with another World Series title – he’d have the credentials to possibly make him a Hall of Fame manager.
Meanwhile, the Nationals will have plenty of time to find a suitable replacement for the affable Johnson, but the preference from the outset is to promote from within the organization. Knorr could be the heir apparent in that case, though base coach Trent Jewett and Triple-A manager Tony Beasley are also considered options.
Johnson, as a consultant, will likely have a hand in choosing his successor.
“I would love to give managing a shot,” said Knorr, a former major league catcher and minor league manager who coached or managed the majority of the Nationals’ homegrown players on the way through the system. “I would love it.”
“There’s only 30 jobs out there and I think I would be perfect for the job, but there’s a lot of other guys out there that can manage, too. I think I’d do a great job with it, but that’s up to Mike and Davey… I’m not going to do anything different. If they don’t see me in that respect, then that’s what they see. But I think I’m probably the best guy if Davey’s not going to do it anymore.”