Although Billy Martin brawled with players (literally) he managed throughout his career, he quickly turned around many teams while producing championship results. Likewise, Dick Williams had a golden touch in winning World Series titles, pennants and reaching the playoffs with several clubs. Tony La Russa won everywhere he managed.
Johnson is in that club. In case anyone had forgotten during Johnson’s time in L.A., he’s providing a daily reminder. Johnson led the New York Mets to a World Series title. The Cincinnati Reds and Orioles reached the playoffs with Johnson making decisions in the dugout.
Still a players’ manager, Johnson has earned high marks in the Nationals’ clubhouse for being a straight shooter.
He tells players exactly where they stand with him and sticks to his word, “which means a lot to every guy in here,” relief pitcher Tyler Clippard said. “When we know that he has the confidence in us, and that he’s not going to panic if you have a bad game or a couple of stretches that are bad, it just helps us mentally to be in a good spot when we’re struggling. . . This game is tough enough as it is, without having to worry about whether your manager is going to like you or trust you.”
Johnson’s winning style was evident in how he skillfully handled middle infielders Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa. In spring training, Johnson essentially told the talented-but-unproven players he would stick with them this season no matter what happened. Believing Desmond and Espinosa possess the talent to become standouts, Johnson figured he had to prove it by his actions.
Desmond was selected as a first-time all-star. After struggling earlier in the season, Espinosa has been among the Nationals’ most productive hitters in the second half.
“He doesn’t try to group us all into one and say, ‘I have to handle every single guy the same way.’ He handles everyone differently and lets us be us,” Espinosa said. “He managed in the ’80s and ’90s. He played in the ’60s. He understands what he has to do to help us do our jobs. . . . He’s just a great manager.”
And one who’s likely on the verge of winning another prestigious award. Whether he wants it or not.
For previous Jason Reid columns, visit washingtonpost.com/reid.