Nationals Manager Davey Johnson experiences a different kind of victory

October 2, 2012

Davey Johnson has done a lot of winning in his 16 years as a manager — more than just about any of his contemporaries, maybe even enough to get him to Cooperstown — and still he experienced a new kind of victory Monday night. The Washington Nationals had clinched a division title while sitting in their dugout, three outs from a shutout loss.

“It caused a little complication at the end,” Johnson said. “I’m used to being on the field and celebrating so the fans can see us, so I was kind of, ‘Hey fellas, come on out. I think we’re supposed to be on the field.’ They wanted to get in and drink some champagne and start splashing everybody.”

Johnson mostly stayed out of the fray as the Nationals celebrated their title. He stood outside the Nationals dugout with his players and kissed his wife, Susan. He was doused with booze twice in the Nationals clubhouse, once by first baseman Adam LaRoche and another by call-up reliever Christian Garcia. “Son,” Johnson told the rookie, “that’s a no-no.”

“I’ve seen a few of those,” Johnson said, “and it never gets old.”

Johnson, 69, has finished first six times in his managerial career, tied with Charlie Manuel for the most among active managers. On Monday night, he joined Billy Martin as the only managers to win a division title with four different teams.

“He knows how to do it,” Susan Johnson said Monday night, standing on the field at Nationals Park.

Johnson will now try to coax the Nationals to his second World Series title, another ring to go alongside the one he won guiding the 1986 New York Mets. Johnson is a man who embraces the present and disregards legacy. This spring, when asked if he wanted to be remembered more as a player or manager, he paused for a moment. Then he replied, “Who gives a rat’s [behind]?”

And so he may not care about the unique achievement he can reach. Ten managers in major league history have advanced to the playoffs at least six times and also won multiple World Series titles. Eight of them are in the Hall of Fame, and the other two, Tony La Russa and Joe Torre, are likely headed to Cooperstown in the near future. This October, Johnson could become the 11th.

“Davey’s really important,” closer Drew Storen said. “Davey’s done a great job since Day One of coming into a tough situation last year. He’s got the respect of all the guys, and he connects with us well. He understands what kind of players we are and connects with us and puts us in position to succeed.”

Johnson has led these Nationals with his swaggering style, maybe mellowed from his earlier years but no less confident. In spring training, he declared the Nationals could fire him if they didn’t win the division.

“I mean, I don’t have to fire myself,” Johnson said. “I slept better.”

In reality, the Nationals and Johnson have started hammering out the details of a contract that would keep him in Washington for the 2013 season. Both Johnson and General Manager Mike Rizzo want him back in the dugout, and they have both sound like it should happen.

His players, the ones who tried to soak him with champagne Monday night, surely want it that way.

“I think it’s very important,” reliever Craig Stammen said. “We’ve kind of got something going on here. If you look back to the people they have under control for next year, we’re going to have a lot of the same guys on the team. That’s how you build a string of wins, like the Braves did in the ’90s. Hopefully we can become a dynasty.”

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