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Significant moment No. 3: Davey’s farewell

Dec 29, 2013, 6:00 AM EDT

Associated Press Associated Press

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.”

  1. zmunchkin - Dec 29, 2013 at 8:50 AM

    Long time lurker. First post here. Same username as on the WaPo site (for Nationals Journal).

    Have to say that you are spot-on Mark. I just don’t get all the Davey critics. He is the best thing to happen to baseball in DC since we got the team in 2005.

    • Joe Seamhead - Dec 29, 2013 at 10:07 AM

      I right there with you zmunchkin. I don’t believe that there was a better fit for the Nats than Davey Johnson after Riggleman did his weirdness. Under Davey this club, and its fans, went from hoping to play .500 ball to being a club that was expected to win. That said, it was obvious to all that it was time for him to turn things over to new blood. I personally wonder how much, if anything, that Johnson had to do with Randy Knorr not being named to succeed Davey? We’ll never know.
      So, I assume that Matt Williams’ hiring will be one of Mark’s Most Significant Moments. Personally, I think that the most significant story of 2013 was Mike Rizzo’s contract extension. Rizzo, Werth, and Johnson are the 3 that are most responsible for changing the mentality of this club, in my opinion.

      • Joe Seamhead - Dec 29, 2013 at 10:15 AM

        I detest not being able to edit.

        “I’m right there with you zmunchkin” was what I meant to say.

  2. JayB - Dec 29, 2013 at 9:03 AM

    That evaluation adds up for me….an over all big positive impact without a doubt but it should have been so much more that that. It is almost like Davey was more comfortable going out on a low as he always had in the past and Rizzo was not going to let him do it his way. Had Rizzo let him after game 5 and found their Matt Williams last off season then Davey would have done it his way and Nats would have been in the been playing the Cards for for best in NL in the playoffs. Rizzo seemed like he wanted to force Davey for once to complete the promise he started……..we all know how that worked out……”Johnson was physically and emotionally spent.” and 10 games out of first.

    • sjm308 - Dec 29, 2013 at 11:33 AM

      JayB – I honestly expected you to blast Davey in this post but I think you nailed it. I remember you constantly talking about how relaxed things were last spring and I have to think in hindsight, you might have been correct. Lets all hope we come out of this spring with a group that is healthy, focused and well coached.

      Go Nats!!

      • JayB - Dec 29, 2013 at 12:25 PM

        Being right is good….yes?…it is so seldom for me.

        Honestly Davey was a great addition to Nats at the right time ….. you just knew history was going to repeat itself with him burning bridges and pushing his way to extremes……night after night of comments like ‘that’s baseball” after crushing loss after loss with no acknowledgment of accountability of changes needed to be made. I think the more Davey has success the more he wants to prove his way (and that way is always the opposite of current conventions) is the smart way. His ego is just about as large as it gets.

        I for one feel having him around at Spring Training would be a huge mistake. Hope Rizzo is smarter than that.

  3. Another_Sam - Dec 29, 2013 at 9:34 AM

    Right on, Mark. DJ’s tenure here was a big plus; a high water mark for the club. I was among those who, in the frustration of losing, occasionally [?] criticized Davey’s moves — or lack of theatrical moves — during the games. I’m aware that what I saw as pedestrian, by the book bench managing, can also be seen as subtle, learned managing.

    However — what do you guys think about Davey’s adherence to his blueprint for handling pitchers during a game? The plan was familiar: Get six from the starter, than one from each of three to follow. This, even when everyone in the booth and in the park and on the sofas could see that the guy on the mound can’t get it done. Great when it’s working, but that approach frustrated me so often.

    • Joe Seamhead - Dec 29, 2013 at 10:19 AM

      Another Sam, second guessing a baseball manager’s moves both on, and off the field is a God given American right. I’m pretty sure it’s in the constitution.

      • Another_Sam - Dec 29, 2013 at 11:39 AM

        Right, Seam. I’m with you. haha. BTW, it always brightens my day to see remarks from you and SJM on here. Thanks, guys.

  4. Joe Seamhead - Dec 29, 2013 at 11:56 AM

    Thanks, Sam. I try to stay optimistic to a fault when it comes to the Nats.

    • sjm308 - Dec 29, 2013 at 5:29 PM

      Sam – thanks a bunch – I figure I am one guy people just skip by, I appreciate the comment.

  5. Sonny G 10 - Dec 29, 2013 at 12:57 PM

    I’m grateful for Davey’s tenure here and thought he was really good for our club. But given his age and health, I’m ready to look for the next Bobby Cox and I hope Matt Williams is that guy. I would like to have stability at the manager’s position for years to come.

  6. rogieshan - Dec 29, 2013 at 1:25 PM

    I’m guessing the trading of fan-favorite Morse and the return of Ramos after his harrowing ordeal were the most significant moments of ’13.

    • Jw - Dec 29, 2013 at 1:49 PM

      Wrong. #2=Espinosa demoted. #1=Harper hits the wall. Book it.

      • Another_Sam - Dec 29, 2013 at 3:29 PM

        could both be Harper’s injuries and ensuing struggles. i don’t think the Espinoza story merits 1 or 2. IMHO the biggest story of the season was the club having to play with 8 players in the field for most of the season. i don’t recall even any defensive replacements late in the games. i thought that defensive replacements would become routine. shows how much i know.

  7. NatsLady - Dec 29, 2013 at 6:04 PM

    Re-signing Adam LaRoche at Davey’s insistence–and then ALR flopping? Seems like a pretty big “moment” in what happened last season.

    BTW, I never got the feeling Davey wanted to retire after Game 5, nor that he stayed at Rizzo’s insistence. I think Davey wanted to stay and finish what he started, he just underestimated the difficulty once Harper got injured, and all the other problems we’ve noted. Given the level of talent on the team an awful lot had to go wrong,

    – major injuries (Ramos, Werth, Harper)
    – major under performance (Espinosa, Haren, LaRoche, ENTIRE bench)
    – slow startups (RZimm, Span, even Soriano)
    – bullpen underperformance (Henry, Zach Duke, Mattheus, Storen)

    That’s a lot to cope with–for any manager.

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