Gibbs went from 140-65 (counting the playoffs) to 31-36 and had to hire new coordinators to get him up to speed. Davey went from a .564 career percentage to .563 so far with the Nats and was named the National League manager of the year last season. In the Washington clubhouse, everyone lines up to learn from Davey while there is still time. No one doubts that the best baseball mind in the room is the manager.
So, Davey, did you talk to Rafael Soriano in Spanish or English?
“Oh, he speaks good English,” Johnson said. “I grew up in San Antonio where a lot of Spanish is spoken. My brother is fluent. But I understand it better than I speak it. Sometimes I get my Spanish mixed up with my Japanese. . . . I speak in one [language] and think in the other.”
Hold on just a second, Davey. You speak Japanese, too, along with the pilot’s license, the scuba instructor stuff, the scratch-golfer bit, the poisonous snakes killed in mid-air with a two-iron, the made-my-first-million selling real estate, the degree in math, the recent offseason safari (“I like Africa. I didn’t get eaten”), the computer geek skills, the oldster communicating by iPad with his players and the sabermetric studies with Prof. Earnshaw Cook of Johns Hopkins as far back as the ’60s — and you speak Japanese, too?
“When I played in Japan [two years as a Yomiuri Giant and teammate of Sadaharu Oh], I had a translator who couldn’t speak English. They all called him ‘Rich boy.’ So I had to learn to speak Japanese,” Johnson said. “Sometimes I try to speak to the Japanese reporters in Japanese.”
Okay, how good is Chad Tracy’s Japanese after he played in Japan?
“Pretty weak,” Johnson said. “I asked him to say something. He said ‘salutations.’ What’s that [good for]? How about, ‘You’re good-looking.’ ”
So, if any Nat wants to learn a pickup line in any language where baseball is played, just ask Davey.
As Danny Espinosa said, “Seventy is only a number to him.” Who has known Bryce Harper since he was 15 and probably gets him better than anyone? Yes, the guy 50 years older. One second Davey’s almost installed Harper in the superstar No. 3 spot in the batting order, but with the next, he’s consigning him to left field, saying in his Texas twang, “He ain’t hit a cutoff man since he’s been here.”
Washington’s recent experience of Gibbs II and Davey V (he’s been fired four times) probably says more about the nature of their sports than about the two men’s adaptability with age. Both left their sports as men with an edge: Johnson’s tongue got him in trouble, and Gibbs could chill a veteran with one cold look and, along with all his virtues, was part NFL shark.