In 2011, Davey Johnson took over as manager of the Washington Nationals and watched as St. Louis Cardinals skipper Tony LaRussa won the World Series then retired. Johnson has already announced that 2013 will be his last season and would like to imitate LaRussa by leading his team to a championship.
The old saying goes that managers are hired to be fired. It is very rare that they get to leave on their own terms. Even the great Casey Stengel was fired by the New York Yankees after leading them to within one game of winning a World Series in 1960. LaRussa was a special case in that he won and managed for a stable organization. Johnson is a unique situation as well in that he has basically been the interim manager since taking over when Jim Riggleman resigned in June of 2011.
Since then, the only question has been how long would Johnson manage the ball club? He was 68 years old when the Nationals moved him from the front office to the field. Johnson only took the job at the request of general manager Mike Rizzo and there was no guarantee he would stay after the 2011 season. While guiding Washington to an 80-81 record, Johnson decided to come back in 2012. He boasted in spring training that the Nationals would make it to the post season and they did.
Now, the interim manager is back for one final season. At age 70, it is highly unlikely that Johnson will manage again. Washington is his fifth stop in a career that has spanned four decades. Most men his age have long since retired.
Winning the World Series would be a perfect ending for Johnson, but the deck is stacked against him. It is hard enough to win a pennant much less a championship. So many things have to go right. Stengel had the 1960 World Series in hand until a ground ball struck shortstop Tony Kubek in the throat. LaRussa was one strike away from losing the 2011 World Series to the Texas Rangers more than once. In order for the Nationals to bring Johnson home a winner they will need to play their best and have luck on their side.
Johnson will make sure that they play good baseball. He and Rizzo have built a solid team around pitching, defense and timely hitting which have always been staples of Johnson managed teams. For the first time, Johnson will have a completely healthy pitching staff. There is no question that Washington is a legitimate World Series contender.
Now, it is simply a case of having the cards fall into place. Very few managers have been able to walk away as world’s champion. Most were young men when they won and had no intentions of retiring. Johnson is an old man who has no intention of returning.
The 2013 season will be Johnson’s last and he would love nothing more than to be one of the very few managers to walk away on top.