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“Time to go home”

Sep 29, 2013, 9:21 PM EDT

Associated Press Associated Press

PHOENIX — Davey Johnson had plenty of time to prepare for this, and he’d already formally been honored by the Nationals prior to his final home games one week ago, so by the time Sunday’s season finale was winding down the departing manager was, understandably, spent.

Perhaps a day or two or 20 years earlier, Johnson would’ve charged out of the dugout to argue an apparent missed call by umpire Tim McClelland in the bottom of the eighth inning, one that helped give the Diamondbacks the lead and send the Nationals to a season-ending, 3-2 loss.

“I was a little worn out by then,” he admitted.

So there wasn’t a fairytale end to Johnson’s career, one final celebration in the middle of the diamond following an uplifting victory, one final trip to the postseason with a Nationals club he believed all along was good enough to win the World Series.

Truth be told, Johnson never has been one to ride off into the sunset. His four previous managerial stints all ended in varying degrees of disappointment, whether in the won-loss column or in clashes with his superiors.

So this would have to suffice, a 2-hour, 29-minute ballgame in a cavernous dome, with a brief pregame recognition from the Diamondbacks, a lineup full of backups and rookies and one final trip to the mound to remove a reliever who couldn’t hold a late lead.

The Nationals finished a disappointing, though hardly devastating, year with an 86-76 record, four games shy of a postseason berth. They boasted baseball’s best record over the final seven weeks, going 32-16 to claw their way back into the fringes of the playoff race. But they still dropped 12 games from their division-title run in 2012 and and finished 10 full games behind this year’s NL East champions from Atlanta.

“It was disappointing, personally and team-wise,” said Adam LaRoche, who hit only .237. “It was just too little, too late. We did get it going, but that was for a month and a half, the last six weeks. The good thing is, it’s something to build off of and come into next year fine.”

The Nationals expect to keep the vast majority of their roster intact for 2014, but there will be a new face occupying the manager’s office. It could be a member of Johnson’s coaching staff, most likely bench coach Randy Knorr, who appears to have overwhelming support throughout the clubhouse and from his departing boss as well. Or it could be someone from the outside, whether an up-and-comer like Diamondbacks third base coach Matt Williams or an experienced skipper who might find himself available like Minnesota’s Ron Gardenhire.

Whoever gets the job will have a hard time matching his predecessor’s vast knowledge, sharp wit and folksy charm.

Johnson already had put together one of the best managerial careers in baseball history when Mike Rizzo surprisingly came calling during the final week of June 2011. A special assistant to the general manager who hadn’t skippered a big-league team since the Dodgers in 2000, he was shocked to find himself boarding the Nationals’ charter in Chicago three days after Jim Riggleman abruptly resigned over a contract dispute, taking over a club that was in disarray at that moment but was bursting with young talent.

“I was fishing, and out of the clear blue, Riggs resigns,” Johnson said. “I felt like I was up for it, but I wasn’t planning on it.”

A four-time All-Star second baseman who won a World Series as a player with the Orioles and then 20 years later as manager of the Mets, Johnson brought instant credibility to a Nationals franchise that sorely needed it. He may not have lifted it all the way to a parade down Pennsylvania Avenue, but he does leave it in far better shape than he inherited.

“You know, the managerial role as a whole is kind of an enigma,” said reliever Tyler Clippard, acquired by the Nationals in 2008. “You don’t really know what specifically somebody’s doing or not doing from an outsider’s perspective, what he’s doing well to have his guys succeed under him. But I know, just from being around this team and this organization and playing under Davey, that he was uncanny in showing confidence in his guys. And it never wavered.”

Johnson could be brutally honest, a trait that both endeared him to players and coaches and occasionally left them seething. (“I’m really going to miss that ass-chewing every day,” pitching coach Steve McCatty sarcastically said.)

But there was never a doubt how much those around Johnson respected him.

“Obviously, he’s a brilliant guy, a great manager,” said McCatty, who has now served under three Nationals managers and hopes to serve under a fourth. “He’s done so well throughout his career. You learn a lot of things from him. … He’s been great for me. He had me come back when I first got here. So I have a tremendous amount of respect for him.”

“Over the course of our relationship together, he’s always been very supportive of me and helped me in any way possible,” shortstop Ian Desmond said. “I think it’s always going to be a nice relationship that we’re going to maintain hopefully throughout the rest of my career. Hopefully it’s not the last time I see him.”

It surely won’t. Johnson will remain a senior adviser to Rizzo, though his degree of day-to-day participation moving forward is somewhat unclear.

“Davey’s going to be a consultant for us, and we’ll see him throughout spring training,” Rizzo said Saturday. “He’ll be meandering through our minor-league system, not only looking at our players but also helping our coaches and managers, learning their craft, evaluating them and helping them improve. He’s going to be an important piece for us and a guy who I can bounce a lot of things off.”

Johnson does look forward to continuing his work with the organization, but he said Sunday it would be inappropriate for him to be a visible figure in Viera come February.

“Whoever is the manager, I think probably me being in uniform in spring training is not a good idea,” he said. “Just out of respect for who’s there. … Whoever is in this uniform next year, I want them to be putting it on without them thinking I want it back. Because I don’t.”

Johnson, who finishes with a career record of 1,372-1,071, insisted he won’t wear any big-league uniform again. If another club came calling and offered a job managing next season, he would decline because he wouldn’t feel like he knew its personnel well enough to take over. When the 2014 baseball season begins, he’ll be en route to Bora Bora for a long-awaited vacation with his wife, Susan.

So the final image of Davey Johnson as a major-league manager came at 3:39 p.m. Sunday, when pinch-hitter Corey Brown tapped a routine groundball to first base for the season’s final out. The Diamondbacks gathered in the center of the diamond to exchange high-fives while a crowd of 30,420 cheered and the loudspeakers at Chase Field blared. Johnson stood on the warning track for a brief TV interview, then walked down the dugout steps, waving at a handful of Nationals fans who saluted him before he disappeared out of view.

“It was a heck of a ride,” he said. “Great group of guys. Time to go home. Put me out to pasture.”

  1. Ghost of Steve M. - Sep 29, 2013 at 9:30 PM

    Davey, enjoy your vacation!

  2. braveheart1 - Sep 29, 2013 at 9:36 PM

    Manny Acta is available.

    • Eugene in Oregon - Sep 29, 2013 at 10:10 PM

      As are Frank Robinson and Jim Riggleman, but I’m guessing — just guessing, mind you — that none of those guys is going to get the nod.

      • Hiram Hover - Sep 29, 2013 at 11:46 PM

        Really?

        I was going to guess that Jim R. gets an interview, but then inexplicably walks out half way through.

  3. Sonny G 10 - Sep 29, 2013 at 11:37 PM

    Good luck Davey. Thanks for all you’ve done for our Nats.

    • Eugene in Oregon - Sep 29, 2013 at 11:39 PM

      Sonny G10 – Wet enough for you here in the Pacific NW?

      • Sonny G 10 - Sep 30, 2013 at 12:13 AM

        Oh my gosh. I’ve never seen so much rain at one time. We’ve been here at the Olympia campground for eleven days and we’ve only had about three days where there was any sunshine at all. My camper looks like its sitting in the middle of a lake. Fortunately, I like the rain. Everything seems so peaceful during a gentle rain. However, enough is enough. We are headed to your state tomorrow for a couple of days before heading further inland, like maybe Utah to try to find some dry weather. My wife and I have really had a good time and so has my dog, Sophie. Sophie loves the water. She has swam in the Pacific Ocean, Puget Sound and various lakes, ponds, and rivers around Washington state. Previously she has been in the Atlantic Ocean and one of the Great Lakes, near Niagra Falls (I forget which one, but not Lake Erie) The next thing on her bucket list is to get her paws in the Gulf of Mexico.

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - Sep 30, 2013 at 11:16 AM

        NIAGRA FALLS!!

        Slowly I turned …

      • natsfan1a - Sep 30, 2013 at 11:23 AM

        step by step, inch by inch

  4. natsguy - Sep 29, 2013 at 11:48 PM

    The performance of Ryan Matheus kind of reflected the disappointment of the entire season. A couple of players did a lot to bring this season to where it ended. Matheus, Espinosa, and HRod have much to answer for. I personally hope that we have seen the last of the first two mentioned. Between Espinosa’s stubborness and Matheus’s temper/wildness/crappy pitching enough games were blown early that might have changed thing around a little. Who knows.

  5. David Proctor - Sep 30, 2013 at 6:19 AM

    At this time of the year, I’m always struck with that feeling of…”what now?” I let baseball consume such a large part of my life during the regular season that the first few days of the offseason feels empty. Of course, I adjust. It just takes a few days.

    In the meantime, I’ll be rooting for the Dodgers to blow out the Braves.

    • Candide - Sep 30, 2013 at 8:01 AM

      What now? Well, I’ve now watched the first two episodes of “Breaking Bad” on Netflix. The weird on the street is that it’s a pretty good show…

      Kinda tough between the Dodgers and the Braves. I guess I’ll root for the Dodgers, as I hate them a little less, and would seriously like to see the Braves’ punks get linked.

      • Candide - Sep 30, 2013 at 8:02 AM

        “Linked?” WTF???

        Should be “punked.”

      • Candide - Sep 30, 2013 at 8:04 AM

        And it’s “WORD on the street,” not “weird.” Jeezum Crow…

    • natsfan1a - Sep 30, 2013 at 8:45 AM

      On viewing options, after the game, we watched a show on “Cats in the Womb” that I’d taped some time ago. My cat found it quite fascinating, even more so than the rainforest monkeys show, which he loved. I’ve never seen him so intent on a program. He had to take a front row seat on the ottoman to get a better look (and he’d make a better door than a window, btw).

      On the playoffs front, there are a number of teams I could cheerfully (?) root against. There aren’t that many I can root for, and in a half-hearted way at that. There’s the Tribe, because of my still-living aunt, who roots for them. There’s the Pirates, because of my deceased aunt, who rooted for them, and because their playoff drought makes for a nice story. There’s Oakland, because of hometown geography and a couple of Natly connections. But it won’t really break my heart if any of them doesn’t advance. Meh.

    • janebeard - Sep 30, 2013 at 10:34 AM

      Me too, David. I hope it ONLY takes a few days.

  6. Baseballswami - Sep 30, 2013 at 6:24 AM

    The good news- we barely lost that game with our triple A team on the field the whole game( plus Hairston). They held their own quite well. The opposing pitcher was runner up for rookie of the year last year. That is some nice depth. You could tell that Rendon, Roark and Moore have more playing time in the majors. Saw some good stuff out there. I mean, it should have been waaay more lopsided. Didn’t one of their hitters win the RBI title? Loved watching them.

    • Sec 3, My Sofa - Sep 30, 2013 at 11:19 AM

      The kids would have won. They were alright until Mattheus, who’s been on the big club all year, got in.

  7. Baseballswami - Sep 30, 2013 at 6:26 AM

    David-looking forward to watching the Barves deal with Puig and Hanley pimping it up. Greinke will drill him without a second thought. Fireworks for sure. Go Dodgers!!!!

  8. natsfan1a - Sep 30, 2013 at 7:50 AM

    Thanks for everything, Davey.

  9. NatsLady - Sep 30, 2013 at 8:10 AM

    Thanks again, Davey. I never loved you, never worshiped you, but I did like you and respect you. Enjoy your vacation, come back and give some wise advice and teach some kids.

  10. NatsLady - Sep 30, 2013 at 8:26 AM

    Random thoughts–perhaps for discussion.

    This article (and graph) are interesting re: strikeouts.

    http://www.detroittigertales.com/2013/09/tigers-break-strikeout-mark-mlb-does-too.html?spref=tw

    I wonder what Mike Rizzo is thinking today.

    Is baseball a meritocracy or a talentocracy?

    Should Detwiler (if healthy) be in the rotation–or Tanner Roark?

    Should Strasburg be the Opening Day Starter–or Jordan Zimmermann?

  11. Theophilus T.S. - Sep 30, 2013 at 8:48 AM

    The thing I’m looking forward to most is the full-season Rendon. I’ve accepted the idea that his drop-off was due in part to playing more games in a single season than he previous played in his career. If you think about it, they start these kids in the short-season leagues for a reason.

    The second most-anticipated development is Ramos playing, say, 125 games. If he were to continue to produce at the rate he did in the last half of the season he would be a fearsome No. 5 hitter. I don’t really expect that but I do think he’s going to be a 20+ HR hitter and that the 6-7-8 of some combination of Desmond-LaRoche-Ramos-Rendon will scare opposing teams to death.

    The thing I won’t miss about Johnson will be his easy assumption that his players will always rise to the level of their abilities without being tasered. At various times nearly everybody on the team — exceptions being Werth, Ramos, Clippard and maybe Rendon — deserved banishment to the corner of the dugout. And it never came. I think the next manager needs to walk a find line between not messing with the 40-12 team and taking a “show me” attitude until he really learns the players. (I’m sort of expecting the new manager comes from outside, although maybe that’s thinking wishfully. I want a Dick Williams-type and there isn’t one in the dugout that I can see.)

  12. Theophilus T.S. - Sep 30, 2013 at 8:50 AM

    The Nats biggest enemy next year will be the same as this year — complacence.

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