Nationals Manager Davey Johnson is not one for speeches, large gatherings centered around him or recognition. But at 1:10 p.m. he stood near the on-deck circle at Nationals Park with his arms crossed, watching the large scoreboard in right field. To his side stood General Manager Mike Rizzo, managing principal owner Ted Lerner and others from the team’s ownership group. His players hung on the railing of the dugout and on the bench. In his final day in front of home fans as the Nationals‘ manager, Johnson watched the video tributes that included former teammates, current players and Rizzo. He couldn’t help but smile.
“You’ve transformed the Washington Nationals,” Rizzo said in the video. “We will never forget that gift.”
Johnson, 70, was presented with a Tiffany crystal that included an inscription that read: “In celebration of your decorated baseball legacy and contributions to the Washington Nationals.” After the videos ended, Johnson shared hugs with his bosses. Then, came the stream of players and coaches. One by one, they lined up to hug him. Johnson grinned the entire time, laughed and punched some players in the gut. He fought back the soft and gushy feelings.
“I like to stay away from those emotions,” Johnson said after the first game of Sunday’s doubleheader. “It got to me.”
Contributors to the video tribute to Johnson’s career as a player and manager included Boog Powell, Tony Tarasco, Jim Palmer and Cal Ripken Jr., who took at joking jab at Johnson for not arguing the Jeffrey Maier call in 1996 well enough. They showed footage of Johnson as a Baltimore Oriole, Atlanta Braves and even when he played in Japan. Another video tribute followed, centered on Johnson’s tenure with the Nationals. Players from Tyler Clippard to Ryan Zimmerman to Wilson Ramos to Ross Detwiler thanked Johnson, as did his coaching staff.
“I appreciate and thank you for all the kind and warm moments we shared,” said pitching coach Steve McCatty in his typically subtle yet sarcastic manner.
Added third baseman Ryan Zimmerman later: “Davey has done a lot for this organization, but more importantly for baseball. He deserves the recognition that he got.”
As center fielder Denard Span embraced Johnson, he asked his manager, whose eyes were hidden behind sunglasses, if he was crying. Johnson responded in the most Davey Johnson of fashions: “Bleep no,” Johnson said, according to Span.
“He has so many accomplishments,” starter Dan Haren said. “I didn’t even think of the stuff that he had done and how long he’s been in the game. It was sad, if I was him, I cry easy so I would’ve been choked up. So many people saying so many really nice things about him. I think I read an article a couple days ago and I think [Jayson] Werth said he’s the ultimate players manager. I think I played for six or seven managers and I would agree. The guy’s a class act. Very stand-up. Very honest with players, honest with the media, and it’ll be sad to see him move on to the next stage of his life but he definitely left a legacy that won’t be forgotten.”
“I was really moved by everything,” Johnson said later. “Really nicely done, it brought back a lot of old memories. It was fun seeing me in a Japanese uniform again. It was really sweet. I was really moved by it. The guys were great. I felt like when it was over I should take off my uniform and go crawl in a hole somewhere. It was nice.”
After Johnson finished hugging his players, he stood on the field near the end of the home dugout. He took of his cap, tipped it towards the crowd and bowed crowd four times. The crowd stood and roared. His players applauded again. It was a touching moment.
“The players coming out and guys talking about me, that was moving,” Johnson said. “I feel for them greatly. To get something like that coming back makes you happy and sad at the same time.”
Johnson took over the Nationals dugout in mid-2011 season when they were “a team in distress,” Rizzo said. Johnson changed the clubhouse from then on. And after this season, he will trade the dugout for the front office.
“This is not goodbye,” Rizzo said in the video. “Next season we’ll continue what we started here. … We’ll refer to you as senior adviser to the general manager, emphasis on senior.”
The man who first came in touch with Washington baseball when he was a Senators ballboy during spring training in Orlando at 10 years old has finally come full circle. He played in and managed more than 3,800 games. He is one of five managers to win manager of the year in both leagues. His teams finished first or second in their division in 14 of his 17 seasons as a major league manager. As a player, he won three Gold Gloves and made four all-star appearances. He has won three World Series, two as a player. He guided the Nationals to their highest moments, including a first division title in 2012.
“I’m uncomfortable getting an award any way,” he said. “The tribute was real moving for me, I mean it took me way back. That was the old Tinker Field [in Orlando], I was mingling with all the big leaguers and I was just ten years old. Here I am going out to pasture managing my favorite team.”