By boasting two MLB award winners born 50 years apart, the Washington Nationals proved that age is just a number. Bryce Harper played the 2012 season as a 19 year old and won NL Rookie of the Year. At age 69, Davey Johnson managed his first full season with the Nationals and won NL Manager if the Year. Both honors are well deserved and each man can thank the other for helping him with his success.
Harper was called up in April by Washington when third baseman Ryan Zimmerman went on the 15 day disabled list. It was not expected that he would be called up to the majors so quickly. The plan was to keep Harper at Triple A Syracuse and call him up in September if everything went well. With Zimmerman and outfielder Michael Morse both out, the Nationals decided to take a chance on Harper.
Johnson had no problem bringing Harper to Washington. The manager had said going into spring training that there was a possibility Harper would go north with the Nationals and be on the 25 man roster opening day. While others felt that Harper was not quite ready for the show, Johnson insisted that the kid could do it. This is the eye for young talent Johnson has had since his days of managing the New York Mets in the 1980’s
Even after Harper made his debut, it was thought that he would return to Syracuse when Zimmerman and Morse returned. Then right fielder Jayson Werth broke his wrist. Harper’s days in the minors were over. They probably were, whether Werth remained healthy or not.
Of course, Harper proved Johnson to be a profit. In 139 games, he batted .270 with 22 home runs and 59 RBI. Harper became Washington’s every day center fielder and played the position well. He made the occasional mistakes in judgment, but overall did not hurt the team defensively. On the bases, Harper showed an aggression that has never been seen in D.C.
Johnson handled Harper brilliantly. Despite the fact that Washington was fighting for their first postseason birth since arriving in 2005, Johnson showed complete confidence in his prodigy. He never once benched Harper for a long period of time. By season’s end, Johnson had so much confidence in Harper that he moved him up to the second spot in the batting order. Harper rewarded him by winning Rookie of the Month honors in September.
Everything that Harper and Johnson did helped the Nationals win more games, 98, than anyone in 2012. Washington won its first NL East crown.
Some said that Harper was too young and not ready for the majors. Many of these same people said that Johnson was too old to return to managing. Together they have proven everyone wrong.
There may be 50 years between them, but Harper and Johnson have a lot in common this week as they are winners of two prestigious MLB awards.