Johnson wasn’t the problem. He was still sharp. He continued to utilize mathematical trends well. He made the correct right-handed-vs.-left-handed decisions. If a situation called for a double-switch, he made the move. Johnson also had good hunches.
What he didn’t have was a strong working relationship with Kevin Malone, the club’s general manager at the time. On different pages from the start, Johnson and Malone simply couldn’t coexist, and ownership fired Johnson first.
Johnson won’t have that problem in Washington. Rizzo has great respect for Johnson, whose counsel he has relied on since Johnson joined the Nationals prior to the 2010 season. He just gets it about how to handle both high-ceiling youngsters and established veterans.
Knowing Johnson, he didn’t agree to come out of semi-retirement cheaply. The Lerners got Riggleman at bargain-basement prices because he had no other options. Riggleman was eager to manage again in the majors and took the low deal they offered.
When you’ve won a World Series and five division titles as Johnson has, that commands respect and Rizzo isn’t stupid. Riggleman’s decision to quit reflects most poorly on Riggleman — but it didn’t help Rizzo’s image within the game, either.
Rizzo needed to make a big hire and he did. Someone with Johnson’s credentials brings credibility to a crisis situation. For the Nationals, no matter how much the Lerners committed to get Johnson, they can’t put a price on what he brings them in the short term.
The long-term results will depend on whether Johnson, 68, still has his old touch after last managing in the majors on Oct. 1, 2000. Johnson was ejected that day in the second inning of the Dodgers’ 4-0 season-ending road loss to San Diego.
After the game, I shook Johnson’s hand and wished him well, correctly figuring his time with the Dodgers had ended. “I’m going fishing,” Johnson said, followed by his hearty laugh. “Not sure if I’ll ever be back.”
Well, Johnson is back now, and the Nationals need him to be as good as he ever was. Rizzo especially.