Johnson calls himself “an introvert who knows how to act like an extrovert when it’s needed . . . I don’t like [team] meetings. I like [individual] conversations.”
Adam LaRoche raises cattle in Kansas and hunts deer with a bow. Strasburg plays golf alone at dawn. Jordan Zimmermann talks a tenth as much as reserved Ryan Zimmerman.
Craig Stammen, Steve Lombardozzi, Tyler Moore, Wilson Ramos, Kurt Suzuki, Ross Detwiler and Dan Haren (“very reserved, loner”) are mimes compared to any of the famous ’04 “Idiots” in Boston, such as Kevin Millar or Johnny Damon. All types can flourish in baseball. What matters is finding a group that syncs as people, but also meshes into an effective playing style.
On the Nats, the extroverts such as Gio Gonzalez, Bryce Harper, Danny Espinosa and Roger Bernadina give needed balance, but they are a minority. Bumptious life-of-the-party Michael Morse and Mark DeRosa might be missed. The Nats seem excellently suited to a long season, but, as they mature together, will have to develop a playoff persona on the fly.
One reason shortstop Ian Desmond played a central leadership role, even in 2010 when he was breaking in, is because his attitude falls near the center of the range (yes, an “ambivert”) who relates to everybody.
“We’ve got the right group,” Desmond said. “Everybody happy and pulling for each other. There are no ‘groups.’ Everybody goes to dinner with anybody: pitchers and hitters together, which doesn’t always happen. This team is going to be an attractive place to play for the next five years because of the kind of people who’ll be in this room.”
Fine teams in all sports tend to blend various personality types; but the balance between introvert and extrovert qualities, both within groups and in any one person’s character, may tend more toward the virtues of introversion in baseball than in any other major sport.
Don’t expect the Nats’ roster, temperament or chemistry to change for quite a while. Every probable opening day Nat, except Chad Tracy and Haren, is under team control for next season, too. Perhaps 20 members of the 2015 team are already in the organization. The team has 11 homegrown players.
General Manager Mike Rizzo looks for “good makeup” in every player, especially the ability “to get jumped [criticized] by a teammate and take it the right way.” But he may unconsciously have built a team congenial to his own nature. At the team meeting Sunday, Rizzo declined Johnson’s invitation to talk.
“Public speaking: not my thing,” Rizzo said. “I sat in the corner.”
Some fear that high expectations and premature praise will distract the Nats. That’s very doubtful. As all the Nats gathered for the first day of endless fundamental drills, the part of the season for which they’re remarkably well-suited has just begun to come in view: the regular season.
Those 162 games are hellish for prima-donna clubs, such as some of baseball’s instantly assembled new powers this season where stars who wore out their welcomes elsewhere are still learning each other’s names.
But those same six months are a grueling heaven for a genuinely tight-knit team. And Washington has one of the few.
For previous columns by Thomas Boswell, visit washingtonpost.com/