CHICAGO — Davey Johnson will become the next manager of the Washington Nationals and will manage them at least through the 2011 season, General Manager Mike Rizzo said on the national broadcast of Saturday’s game against the Chicago White Sox, completing a surreal two days by placing one of the most accomplished managers of this generation at the helm of baseball’s hottest team.
Rizzo spoke in more opaque terms following the game, but he said the completion of Johnson’s contract amounted to “dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s.” Rizzo also said Johnson will have flown to meet the Nationals here by Sunday and will travel with the Nationals to Anaheim, Calif., where he will manage his first game Monday.
Johnson and the Nationals were still finalizing the deal Saturday afternoon, but Johnson had agreed to an arrangement that has him managing through the end of this season, at which point the Nationals will conduct a managerial search, Rizzo said. Johnson, uniquely, will be both a candidate for the position and part of the selection process, Rizzo said.
“Davey’s part of the furniture, put it that way,” Rizzo said on the Fox network. “He’s signed a long-term consultant contract. We’re figuring out dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s on that. But he’s going to manage the team through ’11. We’re going to reevaluate after the season. Davey will be a part of the reevaluation process. . . . But Davey is going to be in the organization for a long, long time. As long as Mike Rizzo is running the organization, Davey Johnson will be part of the organization.”
Johnson, 68, has managed 14 seasons with four teams and compiled a 1,148-888 record, leading three teams to the playoffs. He last managed in 2000, with the Los Angeles Dodgers. In 1986, Johnson guided the New York Mets to the World Series title. In 1997, he managed the Baltimore Orioles to 98 wins and the American League East crown. After being named manager of the year, he resigned following a dispute with owner Peter Angelos.
Johnson joined the Nationals prior to the 2010 season as a senior adviser. Rizzo hired him for the experience and baseball wisdom he has gathered after more than four decades in professional baseball, including a 13-season major league career that started in 1965. At the time of the hiring, Rizzo said he looked forward to spending spring training, “sitting in a golf cart next to Davey Johnson.”
“He’s been a great sounding board for me, a great mentor in many ways for me,” Rizzo said on Fox. “He’s one of the guys with the best baseball acumen that I’ve ever been around. So we’re fortunate that he was so close and so available for us, and we’re looking for him to take this thing and hit the ground running and for us to continue to focus on baseball and play great ball.”
In his current role, Johnson spent all of spring training around the Nationals, as well as a few series each season. He has evaluated the players, and he knows many of them personally.
“He knows how to win,” utility player Jerry Hairston said. “And he’s coming into a real good situation. He knows us, too.”
Johnson, who also managed Team USA in the 2009 World Baseball Classic and the 2008 Olympic team that included Stephen Strasburg, will become the second-oldest manager in baseball behind only the Florida Marlins’ Jack McKeon, who is 80. Johnson’s age gave Rizzo no pause.
“I have no worries whatsoever,” Rizzo said on Fox. “You know, Davey’s always been on the cutting edge. This is a guy who was employing sabermetrics before there was even a sabermetrician. Like I said, he’s a thinking man’s manager, he’s a player’s manager, he’s a guy who loves the game, knows the game inside out, and he has a track record that’s second to none.”
In the midst of a stretch that matched the winningest two weeks of baseball in team history, Jim Riggleman shocked the Nationals by resigning Thursday, immediately after a victory over the Seattle Mariners. Acting swiftly and decisively amid chaotic, unforeseen circumstances, Rizzo immediately identified Johnson as his choice to replace Riggleman, then persuaded owner Ted Lerner to hold the same conviction.
After resigning, Riggleman sent a text message to Johnson letting him know he hoped either Johnson, third base coach Bo Porter or bench coach John McLaren would have an opportunity to manage the Nationals.
“I’m glad they chose Davey,” Riggleman said in a short phone conversation on Saturday. “I think the world of him. He’s going to do a great job.”
Before coming to the Nationals, Johnson had often repeated he had no desire to manage again. But he grew fond of Rizzo and he believed in the Nationals’ players. His affinity for Rizzo and the organization made him want to manage the Nationals after Riggleman resigned — the Nationals did not have to convince him. “He would enjoy this challenge,” Rizzo said Friday afternoon.
McLaren, who took over for Riggleman on a short-term interim basis Friday night after serving as his bench coach since the start of 2010, will manage Sunday’s game in Chicago. McLaren will then be reassigned to a front-office scouting position. McLaren and Rizzo shared a long conversation after McLaren considered leaving the organization.
“It was kind of a mutual decision,” Rizzo said. “He had an allegiance to Jim Riggleman and had some thoughts about really wanting to get out of the uniform and to trying something different.”
While dealing with tumult in their coaching staff, the Nationals have won one game and lost another. Players have uniformly maintained the managerial shuffling has had no effect on them once the first pitch arrives.
“It’s nothing to us,” starting pitcher Tom Gorzelanny said. “We’re focused on ourselves as a team, and we’re worried about each other. There’s nothing else on our minds.”