Such thoughts would be incorrect. Johnson’s return to managing after a decade-plus break was not part of Rizzo’s grand design for the franchise’s future. What is true, though, is Rizzo really needs this to work.
Regardless of the unexpected sequence of events that resulted in his return to the dugout, Johnson now must succeed at a high level, not only for the remainder of this season but especially in coming seasons. All in on Rizzo’s strategy, the Lerners are writing big checks based on his recommendations and, rightfully, expect to soon receive significant returns on their baseball investments.
The Nationals’ current surprising stretch is a nice start, and Johnson is experienced at guiding teams with a variety of rosters, so he’ll at least begin in a good place despite the momentary front-office upheaval caused by Riggleman’s abrupt resignation late last week. Where Johnson goes from here, in large part, will help determine how long Rizzo continues in his job.
In Major League Baseball, every general manager occasionally errs in signing free agents. They sometimes make mistakes in assessing a club’s strengths and weaknesses. Draft picks often fail to progress in the minors.
To a degree, owners accept those errors as the cost of doing business. Blowing it in selecting two managers generally is not a forgivable offense.
Picking a manager is among a general manager’s most important duties. Many longtime baseball people will tell you there’s no bigger decision for the person who runs a club’s entire baseball operation.
If a GM can’t get it right in hiring a field boss, they say, there’s not much else he should be trusted to do. In turning to Johnson, Rizzo is backing his second Nationals manager in two years.
The last one was so frustrated with Rizzo he decided to quit before the all-star break despite possibly ending his baseball career. Because of that, Rizzo probably needs a home run with manager No. 2.
Although managers have limited influence over the outcome of games, the good ones do some of their best work before the first pitch. The top guys are skilled tacticians and successful psychologists. They listen well and see everything.
Great managers understand the makeup of everyone on the 25-man roster. It’s about knowing the right buttons to push and, most importantly, when to push them.
That’s what I learned from Johnson. The lessons occurred daily over two seasons when he led the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Johnson, who began managing the Dodgers in 1999, won a World Series with the New York Mets. He also guided Baltimore and Cincinnati to division championships during a 14-year career most managers would envy.