Sep 22, 2013, 2:14 PM EDT
Updated at 7:00 p.m.
Davey Johnson still has at least eight more ballgames to manage — one of them later tonight — but this is his final day as Nationals skipper at home, so the club took time before the opener of today’s doubleheader to honor the 70-year-old’s career.
A touching video tribute featuring highlights from both Johnson’s playing and managing career preceded a string of thank-yous from former teammates, current coaches and most players on the Nationals roster. Managing principal owner Ted Lerner and general manager Mike Rizzo then presented Johnson with a personalized Tiffany and Co. crystal that read: “In celebration of your decorated baseball legacy and your contributions to the Washington Nationals.”
The crystal included the date “Sept. 21, 2013,” permanent evidence that this ceremony was originally planned for Saturday night but had to be postponed one day after the Nationals’ game against the Marlins was rained out.
Johnson had been saying he didn’t want a long, elaborate ceremony, and the Nationals kept this one fairly brief. The 15-minute proceedings, though, included several touching moments.
Highlights of Johnson’s playing days with the Orioles, Braves and the Yomiuri Giants of the Japanese League offered a glimpse into the first act of a remarkable career that included more than 3,800 games in uniform, a fact many current Nationals might not have fully appreciated.
“I thought it was very fitting for an unbelievable career,” center fielder Denard Span said. “I’m not the emotional type, but I felt a little funny inside.”
Jim Palmer and Boog Powell, Johnson’s former teammates in Baltimore, shared kind words and memories. So did Cal Ripken Jr., a member of Johnson’s Orioles roster in the mid-’90s who jokingly chastised his ex-manager for not winning the argument over Jeffrey Maier’s interference of Derek Jeter’s home run in the 1996 ALCS.
Next came a string of thank-yous from current Nationals players and coaches, capped by a taped message from Rizzo, who made it clear he wants Johnson to remain an influential part of the organization even though he won’t manage this club beyond this season.
“This is not goodbye,” Rizzo said. “Next season we’ll continue what we started here. I imagine we’ll call you senior adviser to the general manager, with the emphasis on senior.”
“It was sad,” said right-hander Dan Haren, who watched from the bullpen as he warmed up. “If I was him … I cry easy, so I would’ve been choked up. So many people saying so many really nice things about him.”
As the crowd gave him a standing ovation, Johnson received hugs from every member of the roster and coaching staff, then tipped his cap and bowed before ducking under the dugout roof.
He did, after all, have a game to manage. And then another one tonight. And then (at least) six more on the road this week before his stint with the Nationals officially ends.
“It was fun for me,” said Johnson, whose club suffered a 4-2 loss in the doubleheader opener. “I was really moved by everything. Really nicely done, it brought back a lot of old memories. It was fun seeing me in a Japanese uniform again. It was really sweet. I was really moved by it. The guys were great. I felt like when it was over I should take off my uniform and go crawl in a hole somewhere.”
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