On Tuesday night, Johnson convincingly won the National League Manager of the Year award presented by the Baseball Writers Association of America. In balloting done before the start of the playoffs, he beat out finalists Dusty Baker and Bruce Bochy, whom he once instructed in the minor leagues. Johnson guided the Nationals to their first winning season since baseball returned to Washington and surpassed their 2011 victory by 18 games en route to 98 victories.
“Individual awards don’t mean a whole lot to me,” Johnson said. “But you like to see players get recognized when they do something good. Guys really didn’t overachieve. They played up to their potential. And there’s still a higher ceiling there for a lot of the players.”
Johnson received 23 out of 32 first-place votes and scored 131 total votes, winning handily over Baker (77) and Bochy (61). Fredi Gonzalez, Bud Black and Mike Matheny rounded out the managers who received votes.
Oakland’s Bob Melvin won American League Manager of the Year.
Johnson joins Jim Leyland, Tony La Russa, Bobby Cox, Lou Piniella and Melvin as the only managers to win the award in both leagues. Johnson won his first Manager of the Year in 1997 with the Baltimore Orioles. On the day they announced the winner that year, Johnson resigned over a quarrel with owner Peter Angelos.
“There’s two ways I could have got fired,” Johnson said Tuesday night. “One, if I don’t win the pennant. Two, if I win manager of the year. I can relax until spring. I haven’t got any immediate calls from the ownership that they don’t want me back.”
Fifteen years later, Johnson won the award again. In 1997, the wild card had been implemented in three postseasons, Albert Pujols was three seasons away from his major league debut and Eddie Murray was still active.
Johnson, who will turn 70 in January, was the oldest manager in the majors last year. It did not keep him from being the sharpest. On the hectic weekend Johnson replaced Jim Riggleman following Riggleman’s contract dispute, Johnson emerged from a decade out of the majors with his same swagger, his same aptitude for motivation and his same big, cocksure grin that makes you think he knows something the rest don’t.
This year, Johnson guided a team that had never been any good to the best record in baseball. A manager’s importance can be debated. It can be argued it’s the players who govern improvement or regression, triumph or a long September. In Johnson’s case, there is little room for debate. He mattered. He was an ideal manager for this particular Nationals team. He gave confidence to youth and lent experience to a callow roster.