Saturday, June 25, 2011
Davey Johnson Takes Over As Washington Nationals Manager
When Jim Riggleman stunned the Washington Nationals universe Thursday by quitting on a red-hot team that just went over the .500 mark after a three-game sweep of the Seattle Mariners that was their ninth with in 10 games, it left the team without a manager heading into Chicago for a game the next night.
Washington solved that by naming bench coach John McLaren the interim manager. McLaren once managed the Mariners for almost an entire year and was replaced by Riggleman, who was his bench coach at that time.
What irked many Washingtonians was the perceived selfishness of Riggleman, who grew up in the area and knows of the city's struggles to maintain a baseball team the past 50 years. The Nationals, who have been here since 2005, are the third team since 1961.
Riggleman was upset at the series of three one-year contracts he signed in 2009.
He admitted he was no Casey Stengel shortly after he quit the Nationals, which is easily seen by his three previous managerial jobs. Late in 1992, he was hired by the San Diego Padres and had a .385 winning percentage in his three years.
After losing that job, he would get hired immediately by the Chicago Cubs. He lasted five years with them, posting a career best .472 winning percentage. Though the Cubs finished second in 1998, that would be the best a Riggleman-led team would ever fare.
He was hired again by the Mariners for 90 games in 2008 but won only 36 contests. Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo hired him to oversee a team beginning to grow up.
Current Cleveland Indians manager Manny Acta had been continuing the job inaugural manager and Hall of Famer Frank Robinson started but was fired midway through 2009.
Riggleman, who now says he will never sign a one-year contract again, was the bench coach and ultimately promoted. The young Nationals grew up under his watch as Rizzo deftly added key veterans into the mix.
Not every Rizzo move has been golden. This season alone has seen veterans Rick Ankiel spend most of his season injured while Adam LaRoche was hurt in spring training and was shelved for the year after gutting it out for 43 games. But the rest of the team has given every indication the future is bright.
Rookies like second baseman Danny Espinosa and catcher Wilson Ramos join second-year shortstop Ian Desmond to give the team a great middle in their defense that could rule baseball one day. Espinosa and Ramos are considered front-runners for this year's Rookie of the Year award.
They helped the team set a club record for most consecutive errorless innings this season already, which was accomplished with Gold Glove third baseman Ryan Zimmerman on injured reserve. Zimmerman is only 26 himself and is the face of the franchise.
Michael Morse, a former shortstop, has filled in seamlessly for LaRoche and is a full-time player for the first time in his career. Their play has helped a team that really has not hit the baseball as well as expected this year.
Jayson Werth came to Washington this year after signing a seven-year contract for $126 million but hasn't hit much and has had to help the team in other areas.
The pitching has been the key. The staff was the last in baseball to not go at least five innings, and the back end of the bullpen is one of the best in baseball thanks to Tyler Clippard, Todd Coffey and Drew Storen. Storen is just 23, and Clippard is 26 years old.
The staff is expected to get even better when phenom Stephen Strasburg returns from Tommy John surgery next year to help 25-year-old Jordan Zimmermann give the Nationals an exciting top of the rotation.
So Riggleman's act caught all by surprise. It was a move that could cost him future jobs after watching him bail on his hometown team. His loyalty will be questioned from now on, let alone his devotion and true priorities if another organization ever considers hiring him.
Rizzo said he wanted to hire someone immediately. The name most bandied about was Davey Johnson.
His winning percentage with the New York Mets is .588, putting Johnson among the city’s greatest managers: Joe McCarthy, Miller Huggins, John McGraw and Billy Martin are the only managers in New York with better winning percentages.
Johnson has seen and done it all as a player and manager since he arrived to the majors in 1965. He has won Gold Gloves, gone to All-Star games and won a pair of championships as a player.
As a manager, he has won a title and been to five League Championship Series while winning 1,148 games in 12 seasons. He joined the Nationals as an adviser in 2009 and has not managed since 2000.
Some are concerned if he is healthy enough to do the job, yet Johnson has not indicated yet what his interests are so far beyond this season.
His having spent many years in the area might have given reason for him to take the job. Johnson attended Johns Hopkins University and played eight years for the Baltimore Orioles. He also managed the Orioles for two years and was named Manager of the Year before resigning in 1997. The Nationals also have other men in their organization to consider.
Assistant General Manager and Vice President of Player Development Bob Boone managed both the Kansas City Royals and Cincinnati Reds after a playing career that accrued a world championship, four All-Star games and seven Gold Gloves over 19 years.
Then there is one of Johnson's best friends that may have been considered for the manager's job.
Ray Knight is a former player who also won a championship and appeared in All-Star games. He replaced Johnson as manager of the Reds in 1996 and had to deal with the team's eccentric ownership until leaving after 1997.
Knight has been a broadcaster for the Nationals since the team started in Washington and has had a front row seat on the teams growth. He often says Zimmermann is the best fielding third baseman since Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson, a position Knight knows expertly because he replaced Pete Rose at the position as a player in 1977.
Now that Johnson has the job, there will be the question if Knight will be lured to the bench to be by his friends side again like he was with the Reds in 1995.
Knight truly bleeds the Nationals red, white and blue, so he might be the perfect hire because he is familiar with the players and knows how to give the teams network the ultimate amount of access to the team without invading the players privacy.
It is a hot job to take right now. Not just because the team is on fire but because the young players future could one day bring Washington their first World Series title since 1924.
The team has also showed a toughness that belies their youth. Less than 24 hours after Riggleman left the organization, the team faced the White Sox and beat them 9-5 in 14 innings.
Business as usual for the Nats, something Johnson wants to keep going.