Not surprisingly, both Zimmerman and Storen were happy to hear the news become official. As the year went along, the clubhouse responded well to Johnson. For a 68-year-old who hadn’t managed in the majors for 11 years, Johnson showed a remarkable knack for relating to a new generation of players.
“He was so different as a manger,” Storen said. “He was understanding of us as players. He really trusts us and our talents. If we struggle one game, he’s not going to panic and try to change. He sticks with guys. He was composed every day. There’s no panicking. Guys really like that there’s no panic mode for Davey.
“The biggest thing about him is he’s been around, but he’s not a guy who’s going to throw it your face. He just acts like he’s another guy in the clubhouse. He’s just a very low-key guy. He also gets fired up when he has to. I think he’s just very good at keeping things even keel. In my brief time in the big leagues, I think that’s going to be one of the most important things.”
Zimmerman made an incisive point about the dynamic Johnson provided. Johnson’s stature helped him garner immediate respect, and his experience combined with his close relationship to Rizzo allowed him to operate with an autonomy that may have been lacking in previous managers.
Manny Acta was a young, first-time manager. Jim Riggleman never managed with the next season guaranteed on his contract. Davey Johnson is, well, Davey Johnson. He won the 1986 World Series before some of his Nationals players were born.
“He’s won as a player,” Zimmerman said. “He’s won as a manager. He’s very calming. There’s no panic in him. He’s done enough in the game. He has enough self-confidence that he’s going to do what he wants to do, no matter what the front office thinks, what the fans think. Not to say he rebels against the front office, but he has the [stature] to be able to do some things other guys might not be able to do, take some risks that some other people wouldn’t.”
It hasn’t been decided if Johnson will manage in 2013, but his appointment still provides some stability. The Nationals will stick with their entire coaching staff, and there is a decent chance that in either Bo Porter or Randy Knorr, the Nationals’ next manager is already in the organization.
Whether or not he is the manager, Johnson will have a prominent voice in the franchise. After years of changing leadership, Rizzo has identified and put together a group of coaches and potential managers who can provide a clear vision for what it means to play for the Nationals.
“We’ve never really had a consistent kind of leader or manager,” Zimmerman said. “There’s always been shuffling going on, change from year to year. I’m hoping we can get into having the same group of coaches. That consistency helps.”