Davey Johnson could bring much-needed excitement to D.C. sports scene


Davey Johnson, center, managed the United States in the 2008 Olympics. (Gene J. Puskar/AP)
Mike Wise
Columnist June 26, 2011

I haven’t the slightest idea whether Davey Johnson can manage a clubhouse full of egos in Washington like he managed Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden in New York a quarter-century ago or Cal Ripken, Rafael Palmeiro and Roberto Alomar in Baltimore some 15 years ago.

I do know Davey Johnson has a pedigree. He is a name, and in this barren sports town lately that counts for something.

Mike Wise is a sports columnist for The Washington Post. View Archive

In the last calendar year, the majority of postgame newsmakers in Washington have vanished. For better and worse, all ages and all sports — the beloved, beseeched and every personality in between — have faded from the landscape.

Stephen Strasburg got hurt. Haven’t seen him since he underwent Tommy John surgery nearly a year ago.

Gary Williams retired in May, taking 23 years of maddening and momentous Maryland memories with him.

Clinton Portis? Second-leading rusher in Redskins history, cut in February.

Everything that was Gilbert Arenas — his exorbitant contract, charisma, clownish ways and, yes, criminal record – was traded to Orlando in December.

George Mason’s Cinderella man, Jim Larranaga, pulled yet another shocker — taking his talents to South Beach in April.

Stan Kasten, a financially constrained carnival barker, stepped down as Nats president last September, just before his bosses decided it was okay to actually spend $126 million on a coveted ballplayer.

We’re so bereft of buzz, Tiger Woods not only missed the U.S. Open, he’s played just twice in four years in his own Washington tournament.

Throw in Brendan Haywood, Caron Butler and DeShawn Stevenson, who celebrated an NBA championship in Dallas 16 months after they were traded from the Wizards, and — okay you Barra Brava crazies — Major League Soccer’s all-time leading scorer Jaime Moreno retiring from D.C. United last November, and it’s apparent:

A lousy Q rating beats the heck out of no Q rating.

The truth? Worse than living in Losersville, where three of Washington’s four major-revenue teams have occupied the basements of their respective divisions two years running, is residing in Boringsville.

Only the NFL lockout has spared the District’s rubbernecking fans and media from the eventual crash-and-burn losses of Albert Haynesworth and Donovan McNabb, who have been so good to Miserable Suburban Guy radio. If not for Jan Vesely smooching his girlfriend on national television after the Wizards plucked the cocksure, 6-foot-11 Czech Republic kid sixth in the NBA draft Thursday, and, yes, a certain manager blow-torching his career this past week, we only have the most flammable club in baseball at the moment.

That apparently wasn’t enough for Jim Riggleman.

Really, who quits when you’ve won 11 of your last 12? Yes, Riggleman had his authority undermined the moment General Manager Mike Rizzo made him a lame-duck manager by not exercising a club option for 2012, and that the only other manager under the same constraint was Florida’s Edwin Rodriguez, who also resigned and was replaced by a geezer.

But if he had thought things out better, Riggleman could have kept managing his white-hot ballclub until he became . . . The Martyred Manager Ownership Wants Gone. Frank Robinson Lite, if you will.

Public sentiment would have eventually turned against the Nationals, who, if in wild card contention a month from now, would have been forced to give Riggleman the extra year.

Predictably fired in 2012, Riggleman would have walked away $900,000 richer than he is today and still highly employable, because anyone who is fired from the Nationals can fairly blame the franchise’s ineptitude for their demise. (Anyone except Jim Bowden. He screwed up himself.)

Instead, Riggleman’s pride overwhelmed him. He got in his own way, essentially morphed into the same guy who gave his short-timer manager so much grief — another hothead who doesn’t burn bridges as much as he detonates them.

Sad irony? If Riggleman had shown this penchant for going off the deep end earlier with players he deemed insubordinate — and not just pitcher Jason Marquis — he’s not merely a better story; he’s possibly a more-respected presence in the clubhouse.

On the bright side, Johnson is back in the game. And the D.C. sports scene is blessed with a big name. Let’s not sugarcoat a resume collecting dust for a while. He coached the United States and Strasburg at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. But Johnson is 68. He has not penciled in a major-league lineup card in 11 years. His crowning moment as a manager happened 25 years ago with Gooden, Strawberry, Ron Darling, Keith Hernandez, Ray Knight and the champion Mets.

Of course there is a reason they call it the grand old game. Heck, the Marlins last week gave Jack McKeon his old job back at 80. Ancient is good in baseball, artifacts better. Connie Mack managed till he was 87, six years before his death. Clubs sometimes don’t scour farm systems for new managerial talent as much as they carbon-date. Retreads, like Cracker Jack and glove oil, will always be part of the game’s fabric.

Johnson has but two knocks against him in my book. First, he was originally hired by Bowden as a special consultant in 2006. (Yes, Rizzo got his gig from Bowden here the same year, but when are the ties going to be cut and tentacles severed for good from a man who brought much more embarrassment than excellence to this franchise?) And second, he has reportedly mellowed over the years.

The latter is most worrisome. We don’t need a mellowed Davey Johnson. We need the Orioles rookie who in the 1966 World Series was the last person to get a hit off Sandy Koufax. We want the manager who confounded every owner he worked for in less than three years after the Mets, including Peter Angelos, whom he barely spoke to in Baltimore before he was gone.

We crave calamity here, Q ratings. In the absence of genuine winning in Washington and Ryan Zimmerman rightfully playing in a National League playoff game before he retires or is traded — in the eternal wait for a Wiz-Nats-’Skins rebuild and another Capitals’ postseason — characters and controversy make for genuine interest.

If Davey Johnson can bring ratings and victories, Mike Rizzo will have made the right decision. If not, someone promote Bryce Harper. Quick. His titanic swing and ’tude are our last hope.

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