2012 NL Manager of the Year Davey Johnson is the right man to lead the Washington Nationals. General Manager Mike Rizzo did the right thing in bringing Johnson back to manage one more year. Johnson has a track record of doing well with young teams going back to his days as manager of the New York Mets in the 1980’s.
There are a lot of similarities between those Mets teams and the current Nationals. Like New York, Washington has built a solid team around a few potential stars and good role players. Like the Mets, the Nationals have put together a solid pitching staff with a young ace in right hander Stephen Strasburg. Strasburg is to Washington what Dwight Gooden was to New York, a right hander with the potential to be dominant whenever he takes the mound.
The Mets, also, had a veteran left hander that they traded for in Bob Ojeda. He came over from the Boston Red Sox in 1985 and won 18 games in New York’s championship season of 1986. The Nationals got their left hander in a trade with the Oakland Athletics last season as Gio Gonzalez came over and won 21 games.
The similarities to New York and Washington do not stop with pitching. The Mets of that era had a mercurial, young outfielder in left handed Darryl Strawberry. Strawberry won NL Rookie of the Year honors in 1983. The Nationals have a young phenom of their own in left handed outfielder Bryce Harper. He matched Strawberry’s Rookie of the Year performance by doing the same last season. Harper is touted as having every bit the potential that Strawberry had and if he fulfills it will be a star for years to come.
Then, there is the play at third base that is consistent with both teams. New York had all-star Ray Knight manning the position in the middle part of the decade before he left as a free agent in 1987. Washington has an all-star at third in Ryan Zimmerman who, fortunately, is signed through the rest of the decade.
In the 1980’s, the Mets had a Gold Glove first baseman in Keith Hernandez. Hernandez, also, provided clutch hitting and veteran leadership in the clubhouse. In 2012, Adam LaRoche won a Gold Glove and did much the same for the Nationals. However, he is a free agent and for Washington to continue copying the Mets blueprint LaRoche must be resigned.
Compared to the New York teams of the 1980’s, Washington has just about every element that the Mets did. The Nationals are strong up the middle defensively. Washington just acquired an every day center fielder and lead off hitter in Denard Span who will be expected to give them what Lenny Dykstra gave New York. Like the Mets, the Nationals have a batting lineup which features a good combination of power and speed. In 2012, Washington learned how to win the close games, just as the Mets did often under Johnson.
In an eerie twist, the 1985 Mets went 98-64. The 2012 Nationals finished with the exact same record. Led by Johnson, New York went on to win the World Series in 1986.
He was the right man for the job then and is now, because the Nationals share a lot of similarities with those 1986 New York Mets. Washington would like to join New York on the list of World Series champions next year.