Dec 29, 2013, 6:00 AM EDT
As we count down the final days of 2013, we are counting down the 10 most significant moments of the year for the Nationals. These aren’t necessarily positive (or negative) moments, and some didn’t even take place on the field. All, though, were significant in the big picture and defined the Nationals’ year. We continue today with significant moment No. 3: Manager Davey Johnson’s farewell…
Much as he would have liked to ride off into the sunset with a World Series title and a parade down Pennsylvania Avenue, Davey Johnson has never been one to leave on a high note. His first four big-league managerial stints all ended in varying degrees of disappointment — often including a clash with his bosses — and so it was perhaps fitting that his time as skipper of the Nationals also ended in disappointment.
A club that entered 2013 with a clear goal in mind, at least according to a manager who declared “World Series or bust” the previous winter, wound up going 86-76 and finishing 10 games back in the NL East, 4 games out of the playoffs altogether.
That put a bit of a damper on Johnson’s farewell tour, one everyone knew was coming no matter his team’s record. Having agreed to manage one final season before shifting into a consultant’s role, Johnson was a lame duck skipper from the first day of spring training.
The end was somewhat drawn out, with the Nationals wrapping up their home schedule during a Sept. 22 day-night doubleheader against the Marlins before embarking on a week-long road trip to St. Louis and Arizona.
The Nats honored Johnson prior to the home finale, showing a video of career highlights and interviews with former teammates and players, then presenting him with a personalized Tiffany and Co. crystal. Every player and coach on the roster stood in line to give Johnson handshakes and hugs as the crowd of 35,101 stood and applauded.
There was far less pomp and circumstance before Johnson’s final game in uniform, just a brief acknowledgment from the Diamondbacks. A subsequent 3-2 loss at Chase Field that featured a blown eighth-inning lead put a damper on the day, and by the time it ended, Johnson was physically and emotionally spent.
“It was a heck of a ride,” he said. “Great group of guys. Time to go home. Put me out to pasture.”
The end may have been disappointing, but there’s no debating Johnson’s positive impact on the Nationals during his 2 1/2 seasons in the dugout. He inherited a wayward club stunned by Jim Riggleman’s abrupt resignation and brought instant credibility to a franchise that sorely needed it. He guided the Nationals to their first division title the following season.
If the Nationals do take the next step in 2014 or beyond, Johnson undoubtedly will have played a key role setting them up for that success. And that’s why he departed with head held high, disappointing finish or not.
“Everywhere I go, my goal is to make the team better,” he said. “And I feel that this organization is in great (shape) and a lot of people have established a position. Not many question marks about positioning or whatever. Just a little tweaking going forward, and it should be a lot of fun here in Washington.”
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