“I think he’s ready to hand the baton over,” Susan Johnson said Tuesday evening. “It was like, ‘Holy mackerel! I think he might be ready to quit working.’ ”
Johnson will manage the Washington Nationals for only one more half of a season, and he felt at peace with that as he sat in the National League dugout Tuesday night as a coach. Johnson eschews reflection. But on the occasion of his final All-Star Game, back in the city of his greatest achievement, Johnson admitted to marking the occasion. He blamed his wife, but she knew better.
Johnson had chances to come to all-star games in an official capacity before. He always declined, Susan said. He ran the Futures Game one year during the decade hiatus between managerial jobs. The gig included free tickets to the All-Star Game. The night before, he handed them over and told Susan, “Let’s get out of here and go home.”
This year, he cherished the experience. After five decades in professional baseball, he is still searching for information. “I’m learning new things,” Johnson said.
Monday afternoon, he told Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman to not return too soon from a thumb sprain. (“I’ve always had a lot of respect for Davey,” Freeman said.) He chatted with Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina. He wanted to know about the the grain of wood he used in his bat, the placement of the label compared to the knots.
“The dinosaur that I am, it’s nice to see what young guys are using,” Johnson said. “Some of them even remembered who I was.”
Tuesday afternoon, as part of the all-star parade through Manhattan, Johnson sat in the back of a pickup truck with Susan and their grandchildren, Kai and Ana Lise. Johnson smiled the entire time. “Look at those buildings,” Susan heard him say. “Look at that sky. This is just wonderful.”
Fans who remembered Johnson leading the Mets to the 1986 World Series cheered for him. He smiled and pointed.
“Go Davey!” someone yelled.
“Who’s that?” Kai and Ana Lise asked.
Davey and Susan laughed; they knew their grandfather only by the name they called him. “That’s your G-Daddy,” Susan told them.
When Johnson arrived at Citi Field, he found a helmet in his locker. National League Manager Bruce Bochy’s wanted him to coach first base. Johnson stuffed the helmet – “my hard hat,” he said – in his bag. He found Bochy.
Johnson coached him in the Mets’ minor league system some three decades ago, and now Bochy has won two World Series titles as a manger. “Why don’t you use the current manager at first base and not the one they ran out of town?” Johnson asked. Mets Manager Terry Collins would coach first base. Johnson would sit in the dugout.
“I’m enjoying the moment,” Johnson said, at peace with the knowledge he only has so many more baseball moments left.