At age 70 and in what is believed to be his final season, Washington Nationals manager Davey Johnson will try to become one of the oldest men to lead his team to a World Series. Neither Johnson nor anyone else can honestly say that they saw him and the Nationals in this position three years ago.
When Washington began its 2010 season, Johnson was 67 and had not managed an MLB team in 10 years. He had been talked into joining the Nationals as a special assistant to general manager Mike Rizzo in 2009 after managing Team USA to a semifinal berth in the World Baseball Classic. Though he had enjoyed his stint as Team USA manager, Johnson made it clear he had no intentions to manage in the Majors again.
Three years later, Johnson is the reigning NL Manager of the Year after leading Washington to its first post season appearance and the most wins in all of baseball last season. The Nationals success and Johnson’s hand in building the team was enough to persuade him to come back for one more year. Even at 70, Johnson believes he has enough left in the tank to help Washington get to the World Series and win it all.
In looking back at Johnson’s tenure with the Nationals, one could make the case that he is as much responsible for everything that the team has accomplished since 2010. Along with Rizzo, Johnson has helped to build a good, young roster that is solid in pitching, hitting and defense. Washington has followed the blue print that Johnson used in his previous managerial stints and seems to have a bright future after he is gone.
In 2011, it was thought that helping to build the Nationals was all Johnson would do. Jim Riggleman was in his third season as the team’s manager and Washington was starting to get better. However, Riggleman was in the last year of his contract and Rizzo would not commit to him long term. This made Riggleman think that Rizzo may have wanted someone else to manage so he resigned in June. Johnson took over on an interim basis. The Nationals almost finished .500 (which is where they were when Riggleman resigned) and Johnson decided to come back in 2012.
Despite being 69 last season and 50 years older than his youngest player Bryce Harper, Johnson was able to relate to every member of the team. He instilled confidence in them and allowed each man to grow as a player. Riggleman may have been able to do the same, but no one will ever know. It is known that Johnson did.
Now, he will try to join the likes of Casey Stengel and Jack Mckeon as managers who led their teams to the World Series in their seventies. It is a short list, because not too many men have managed so late in life.
With the building blocks in place to make another post season run, Johnson may very well be able to do what very few people thought possible even two years ago.