Every day covering Davey Johnson was an adventure. And it always began when the 70-year-old manager would settle into his seat in front of the microphone in the press conference room in the bowels of Nationals Park. If the Nationals were on the road, Johnson would sit on the dugout bench already in full uniform or lean back in the swivel chair in the visiting manager’s office. You never knew what he would say.
Sometimes a question wasn’t even needed. He would often begin with light-hearted small talk or banter, almost always with a smile. More often than not, you would hear a story from his 50-plus years in baseball. At one point, I started keeping track of the names Johnson would throw into his pregame chats with reporters. Charlie Finley, Satchel Paige, Bear Bryant, Jim Murray, Don Drysdale, Gene Autry, Bear Bryant, Hank Aaron and more.
Johnson was mellower at this stage of his life than his past managerial stints, but you could still tell when a loss wore heavily on him. And even after so many decades in the sport, he was still giddy after wins.
When the subject matter broached was touchy or difficult, Johnson would handle it with a sprinkle of humor. The native Texan and world traveler was folksy and sometimes, intentionally, gave the appearance of aloofness, like his insistence on referring to Twitter as “Tweeter.” He was cocky and took jabs at former employers, but could occasionally be self-deprecating. He could be blunt and speak his mind but also intentionally vague. He often said too much, especially about injuries, much to the chagrin of the players and his bosses.
In honor of his two and half years as Nationals manager, a look back at some of Johnson’s best quotes.
“No. I mean, I might slit my wrists or something, but I’m not quitting.”
On whether he would quit before this season ends.
“I figured I couldn’t get any uglier, so what the heck.” Explaining the birth of his facial hair.
“I tried to copy Earl Weaver. I think it was my first week of managing in New York and I came out to home plate, starting arguing with the umpire, kicking dirt around. And they threw me out and said, ‘We ain’t taking Earl Weaver crap here.’”
Asked who he models his managerial style after.
“We may get one of those dart guns out in the bullpen. And when he goes out this year we shoot him right in the rear end and remind him, you know, get it down.”
On keeping Bryce Harper in check.
“I mean, I said last year, if I was younger — to a man — I’d ask them into my house and I wouldn’t be worried about my daughters going out with them. I’d be happy they were going out with them. The makeup on this club, as you know, is off the charts. And makeup is a direct function of the performance.”
On his team’s character.
“In this day and time, you can’t hardly do anything without somebody tweeting you or Facebooking you or something. It’s just too complicated. Fact is, I’m going to change my e-mail this year because I’m getting too many unwanted e-mails. Spam. I’ve got my thing set on the highest spam filter and it still gets through. I’m not even going to tell you, but you can guess at my age what I might be getting.”
“I’m a meat and potatoes man. I like iceberg lettuce. My wife is trying to get me on all this green stuff.”
Chatting before a game.
“Well none of my guys could, ’cause we can’t score.”
Reacting to the news that Boston’s Mike Napoli apparently was dating a porn star.
As center fielder Denard Span embraced Johnson at the ceremony to honor him on Sept. 22, he asked his manager, whose eyes were hidden behind sunglasses, if he was crying.
“I’m thinking I might get checked into the hospital instead.”
On being honored by the Nationals before a game on Sept. 18.
“Don’t be at the mercy of everybody else on how you feel. And that’s right. You can’t. Especially in this day and time, where everybody’s Tweeter and everything. You’ve got opinions out the gazunga, you know? Don’t let other people influence how you feel….If you want to be mad, that’s fine. But don’t let somebody else make you mad.”
On how he advised Bryce Harper to tune stuff out.
“It just shows we got a pulse and we care. That’s all. The only negative thing now, everybody’s got a camera and everybody’s pointing it around. I mean, you can’t even do push-ups on the bench.”
On the Gio Gonzalez-Jayson Werth spat, and being caught on camera doing pushups in the dugout.
“When I look in the mirror, I say, ‘Damn, you’re an old son of a [gun].’”
On showing his age.
“I don’t hold a lot of them, as you know. That way you guys maybe think I’m doing my job.…I think I was watching all those speeches last night on the Republican Convention and I said, maybe I oughta give a speech.’”
On holding a team meeting in August 2012.
“I was hitting a bunch of home runs, and we were playing the Cubs. Their manager, Leo Durocher, he came up to the batting cage and said, ‘Johnson, you hitting 40 homers, you’ll be lucky if you hit five next year.’ I turned to him and I said, ‘Leo, you’ll be lucky if you’re in baseball.’ The first time up, a pitcher named Jerry Reuss was pitching. He shook off two or three signs and drilled me right here in the top of my shoulder. I said, ‘Thank you, Leo,’ as I was going to first. I knew it wasn’t Jerry Reuss, because he was kind of a softy.”
“Why don’t you use the current manager instead of the one they ran out of town?”
On Bruce Bochy asking him to grab a helmet and coach a base during the all-star game.
“Why can’t you be like normal males who think about today?”
When asked by Adam Kilgore if the Nats were thinking about trading for a starter.
“I don’t have any answer. Just kind of nothing. Can’t get nothing going. It’s putting me in the loony bin.”
On the bad offense in a loss to the Cardinals.
“I don’t know. Because I’m supposed to do something. I had an epiphany last night around 9:30, and I called Desi. I said, ‘Desi, I’m changing something. I’m just going to flip you and Werth. The heck with it.’ I said, ‘Don’t change nothing, just keep hacking. Keep the fan on.’”
On why he changed the lineup.
“I am going crazy.” Upon realizing no one in the room had any idea what he was talking about.
“I didn’t even explain it to Werth. He’ll figure it out that I’m an idiot.”
On his decision to flip shortstop Ian Desmond and right fielder Jayson Werth in the lineup, moving Desmond to second and dropping Werth to sixth.
“My Ouija board is just, I’m having a problem with it. I thought about throwing a bunch of names in a hat and picking them out. But I ain’t to that point yet.”
On possibly going crazy figuring out the lineup.
“I was very impressed. He had a telephone. Seemed like a whole bunch of red buttons on it. I didn’t have my glasses on, but I think countries were on there. My wife did ask, ‘When your grandchildren were over, did you ever have to worry about them picking up the phone?’ I know it would be a problem in my household if there were some red buttons on the phone.”
On visiting Gen. Martin Dempsey’s house for dinner.
“Just like the mother hen that he is.”
On pitching coach Steve McCatty worrying about Stephen Strasburg in a June start.
“I felt like when it was over, I should take my uniform off and go crawl in a hole somewhere.”
On the ceremony during his final homestand.
“So a win is a bonus tonight.” After beginning his press conference by announcing he defended his title at the Congressional Member-Guest tournament. (He actually pumped his fists in the air when he shared the news.)
“He’s a thrill a minute.”
On Bryce Harper forgetting the number of outs in Philly.
“A few cracks in the dam. I need to plug them, and I’m running out of fingers.”
On the Nats’ play.
“Hey, I’ve got Social Security, baby. Don’t worry about that. I started taking mine a long time ago. And this month I’ve also got to start taking money out of my IRA. So if they want to fire me, I’ll be fishing somewhere.”
When asked during an interview with 106.7 The Fan’s Junkies whether he was more worried about Social Security or job security.
“That’s a bad sign. I’ve been there and done that.”
On potentially winning the NL manager of the year award last September.
“I think it’s great. Beat the Yankees. Finish ahead of the Yankees. That’ll get you fired.”
On the Orioles making the playoffs.
“I really don’t give a rat’s [behind] what somebody thinks about my club and who I put on the field. I’m resting my regulars. End of conversation.”
On whether he would rest his starters after Nats clinched in 2012, and how that would impact the wild-card race.
“If I knew you were going to second-guess me, I would have called back sooner.”
Johnson, returning a reporter’s phone call, on his decisions from NLDS Game 5.
“I would probably check with my resident genius Werth and see what his preference is. I’m comfortable with him there. The young stud could play either one.”
When asked which outfield corner spots Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper would play after the Denard Span trade.
“I wanted him here to sign the damn contract. I’m eating his beef, and I wanted to put an order in for next year, too. After we win the World Series.”
On inviting Adam LaRoche to his charity golf tournament.
“World Series or bust. That’s probably the slogan this year. But I’m comfortable with that.”
Johnson’s infamous line.
“I didn’t know him that well, but I thought he was a weird wuss, anyway.”
Firing back at Joe Maddon for characterizing his request for umpires to check Joel Perlata’s glove as “cowardly.”
“I don’t want to get in a shouting match with Joe. I looked him up on the Internet and found out he has a Tweeter, so he can get to more people than me. And so I don’t want to get in a shouting match with him. He’s got a bigger following. But it was interesting reading. But you can tell him I have a doctorate of letters, too. Mine’s from Loyola, in humanities. And I’m proud of that, too.”
Still talking about Joe Maddon.
“I like Africa. I didn’t get eaten by any lions or leopards. I thought at one time I was going to get run over by a bull elephant. We were within 10 feet of animals in a big land rover. I took the highest seat. I figured they’d eat the people down below me before they’d get to me.”
On his offseason trip to Africa with his wife.
“I guess most of you all know I’m the oldest manager in baseball. You can tell that by looking at me. But I’ve been in it for 51 years this year.”
While receiving NL Manager of the Year award.
“We’ll play it by tooth.”
On Rafael Soriano’s recovery from a tooth infection during spring training.
“I wanted to see if it was that hard to still hit a baseball.”
During an offensive slump, Johnson took hacks in the batting cages for first time in maybe 25 years.
“It was probably more for me, so I feel like I’m doing something.”
On the team meeting he called that day.
“I feel sorry for the wall if he keeps running into them.”
On Bryce Harper hitting the wall in L.A. and potentially changing his nature to avoid future collisions.
“I told him he looks [expletive] in that uniform.”
Upon seeing John Lannan in spring training in a Phillies uniform.
“Baseball’s the same. Probably the only difference is, they have a chef now in the clubhouse.”
Johnson takes over the Nationals and he slips in a joke.
“You win games, I lose them.”
Always, to his players.