Johnson has forgotten more than some current managers have ever known, and he stayed in the game in various capacities during his long layoff, but that’s not the same as playing chess against Tony La Russa in the late innings with the score tied. Johnson has to prove he can still do it.
The Lerners gave Johnson a new three-year contract to persuade him to increase his efforts for them, and Rizzo recently said Johnson is “part of the furniture.” He will be a leading candidate during the upcoming managerial search mandated by Major League Baseball or play a key part in selecting the next manager, remaining with the Nationals in an expanded advisory role through at least 2013.
It would be ludicrous to have Johnson occupying a powerful position within the organization and expect a new manager to function confidently.
The next guy would constantly look over his shoulder. Every questionable managerial move, clubhouse problem or losing streak would stir speculation in the organization and media about Johnson’s possible return.
After joining Rizzo’s staff prior to the 2010 season, Johnson repeatedly told reporters he had no interest in resuming his managerial career. His thinking quickly changed after Riggleman’s stunner. Rizzo was in a jam and Johnson wanted to help.
If Johnson moved back upstairs again and claimed to be done, well, let’s just say there would be doubters. The Nationals need to avoid more potential internal conflict. Finding new ways to fuel drama isn’t the right move.
Surely, Rizzo and Johnson understood the consequences of taking this route. Johnson was the solution to Rizzo’s problem resulting from Riggleman’s double-bird departure, and there is no solid Plan B with Johnson having such significant standing in the organization now.
“If they want me to be a part of it next year” as the manager, Johnson said, “then that’s fine, too.”
The Nationals will assemble a pool of qualified applicants for manager. They’ll interview a minority candidate as required. Rizzo will do everything he must for appearance’s sake before announcing he already had the best man in place. He’ll just have to hope the right people feel similarly after actually watching Johnson work.