As for Johnson’s heir apparent, the Nationals have a list of names with both external and internal candidates. Johnson would like the Nationals’ next manager to come from within the team’s current staff. Many of his players hope, against the odds, it’s Johnson again.
“I guess it depends on, if he does pack it in after this year, who do we get?” Werth said. “It’s going to take a special person to replace him in that role.”
‘A step, twp steps ahead’
It would perhaps be impossible to find a man with Johnson’s touch, his blend of managerial skill and personal feel. When he lapses into a story, it is hard not to marvel at the memories his mind traps. He was halfway through his 12-year-old Little League season in Winter Park, Fla. when his father, an Army man, was transferred to Houston. Some six decades later, these are some details he remembers: He wanted to stay because the team he played for was 9-0 and called the Giants, and he wanted the Giants to win the pennant for the first time. He had hit nine home runs. Once he left, the Giants lost their remaining nine games. A pitcher on the Pirates named Jack Billingham hit nine homers in the full 18-game season, and the Little League awarded him the Triple Crown. Johnson always thought he was better than Billingham, who one day pitched in the majors.
“I owned him in Little League and the National League,” Johnson said.
Let the record show: Davey Johnson hit .316 with two home runs in 19 at-bats against Jack Billingham, the tall right-hander from Orlando.
“Davey is usually a step, two steps ahead of the game,” said first base coach Tony Tarasco, who played for Johnson in the mid-90s. “Something that he might ask you to work on is something that he’s not really planning for that day. It’s something that he’s thinking about in September. He’s very good at building for the end of the year as opposed to auditioning for the day.”
Watching a pitcher, Johnson may ask, “Why is his arm dropping?” — and only then will the other coaches realize, yes, his arm slot is lower by an inch. He asked bench coach Randy Knorr this spring why a catcher kept lining up inside when a pitcher threw a pickoff to first. Knorr wondered how Johnson knew that.
“He’s a pain,” Knorr said. “He’s particular about things. I’d like to get to that point someday. I had a conversation with him the other day. I said, ‘You see a lot of stuff I don’t quite see.’ I feel like I see a lot of things. He’ll see some stuff. He’ll talk out loud so I can see it. I don’t know if he does it on purpose, or if that’s the way he is. He’ll say things I think he’s hoping that I pick up on. He’s so far ahead of the guy in the other dugout.”
So, starting Monday, cherish Johnson’s last season in the Nationals’ dugout. No matter what comes next, he will be fine. He has some ideas — he has already planted seeds to work with Major League Baseball on opening an Urban Youth Academy in Orlando. He commits himself to nothing, but remains open for anything. He does not think much about what comes next, but whatever it may be, you know he will see it coming.