Saturday, June 25, 2011

Davey Johnson - Another Blast From the Past

From all accounts, the heading of this post is a misnomer. Davey Johnson isn't a blast off kind of manager. He's not a fiery guy who will kick dirt all over the umpire. But, he is one of the most successful managers still alive. Now, according to reports, Johnson will leave his consultant post for the Washington Nationals and head to the dugout to man the position left vacant by Jim Riggleman's resignation. First we have the return of Jack McKeon and now here comes Davey Johnson. For us older guys, this is fun.

This writer has long wondered why a guy such as Davey Johnson has not been in a dugout all these years. He had so much success before that it didn't make sense. Did he simply not want such a position or did time pass him by? As a manager, he'd won a World Series and had four first place finishes in his fourteen seasons as a manager. His teams have won 58.8 percent of their games. How many managers can say that? He was the genius in the 1986 World Series while John McNamara blew it for the Red Sox. Why hasn't he been in the dugout since 2000 when he last managed two middling seasons for the Dodgers?

Johnson is one of those major leaguers that this writer has seen throughout his entire career. This writer watched him play from his rookie season in 1966 until he retired after the 1978 season. His Orioles won three World Series during Johnson's fine run as their second baseman. Those three plus his ring as a manager for the Mets gives him almost as much jewelry as Derek Jeter. This writer remembers when he was traded to the Braves along with Pat Dobson, Roric Harrison and Johnny Oates for Earl Williams and Taylor Duncan. It was one of the worst trades in Orioles' history.

And this Fan can remember the year Johnson had in his first year for the Braves when he unexpectedly hit 43 homers after hitting five the year before. You could call that an outliers, yeah. But it was a season that helped the Braves get into the playoffs that season, something Johnson has a knack for doing. It was also the last full year of his career as injuries sapped his skills. He hung around for a few more years as a part-time player.

This writer remembers when Johnson took over the Mets as manager in 1984. His timing was good as the Mets developed several stars during that period and in his seven years as their manager, the Mets never finished below second place. 1986 was the pinnacle of course with the World Series win. But what is forgotten about that title was that the Mets won 108 games that season, one of the best major league seasons ever.

After his stint with the Mets, he went on to manage the Reds a third of the way into their 1993 season. The Reds he inherited weren't very good and their fifth place finish that season was the lowest any Johnson team ever placed. But they finished in first place in the strike shortened 1994 and again in the 1995 season. He then moved to his dream job with the Orioles as their skipper and in his first season there, the team finished in second place  If young Jeffrey Maier hasn't scooped the Derek Jeter homer against Johnson's Orioles in 1996, history might have been quite different. As it was, Johnson's efforts won the Orioles the division in 1997, which for one year, interrupted the Yankees title runs.

Johnson then moved to the Dodgers for two years. In those two years, the Dodgers finished three games over .500 and had third place and second place finishes respectively. And that was it. Johnson hasn't been in the dugout since. Yeah, he did manager the U.S.A. team and the Dutch team in the World Baseball Classic, but that's it.

The Washington Nationals are flying high despite all the controversy surrounding the team. Believe it or not, they are only three games off the wild card pace. And now they have a manager whose teams have finished with an average placing of 1.9 in his 14 years as a manager. If any manager can make a Cinderella story sing, it's Davey Johnson. He already knows the organization and its players. From interviews in the linked story, the players are excited about Johnson's arrival. And another generation besides the Fan's gets to see one of the best managers of the last thirty years.

If that doesn't bring a smile to an old guy's face, then nothing will.

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