As a player and manager, Davey Johnson's come close before winning it all. Can the Washington Nationals' manager get the Nats to the next level in 2013?
The Washington Nationals' 98 wins this season were the most in franchise history, topping the 95 wins the 1979 Montreal Expos collected and they were the second-most ever won by a D.C.-based ballclub, behind only the 1933 Senators who won 99 in a 154 game season. After back-to-back 59-win seasons in 2008 and 2009, the Nationals improved to 69 wins in 2010, 80 in 2011 and then 98 this season. 69-year-old Nationals' manager Davey Johnson (138-107) improved to 31 games over .500 on the Nats' bench after taking over for Jim Riggleman in late June of 2011. Asked how the Nationals could build on their 98-win 2012 campaign in a press conference before the Nationals lost Game 5 of the NLDS, Johnson told reporters last week that there's clearly still room for improvement on the Nats' roster.
"A lot of guys haven't really hit their stride," the Nationals' skipper said, "There's still a bigger ceiling for a number of players on this ballclub. You know, Zimm, Stras, Det," Johnson said, referring to 25-year-old right-hander Jordan Zimmermann, 24-year-old righty Stephen Strasburg and 26-year-old left-hander Ross Detwiler, "[Danny] Espinosa, he's still learning to make adjustments up here. Certainly [Bryce] Harper."
"So I think -- and we lost our no.1 catcher, [Wilson] Ramos, and he's going to be back healthy next year. So I think we have got a way to go; we can still improve to be a lot stronger and more consistent ballclub."
Johnson told reporters after the Nationals were eliminated from the NLDS by St. Louis that they should be proud of what they'd accomplished. "I just told them, you know, it was nothing to hang your head about," Johnson said, "It was a great year. We overcame a lot of problems. We proved our worth and we just need to let this be a lesson and have some -- learn from it, have more resolve, come back and carry it a lot farther."
After Johnson's second season as New York's manager in 1985 the then 42-year-old skipper spoke to the Mets after they'd finished 98-64 in second place in the NL East Division three games behind St. Louis in the days before the introduction of the Wild Card.
"I remembered in 1969," Johnson said going back to his days as a player as quoted in the book "Amazin'", "when the Orioles were beaten by the Mets. Everyone on our team at the time made a silent vow: Hey, okay, so we got beat. Let's come back next year and go all the way wire-to-wire, and that's what happened. We won the division, beating Minnesota in the playoffs 3-0 and then in the World Series we beat Cincinnati four games out of five. And that's what I want to see happen to us next year."
"As I told the players before the season ended," Johnson continues in the book, "I want you to make up your minds we're going to win it next year, that nothing is going to stop us, that we're going to win it next year." When Johnson arrived at Spring Training to start the next season, he told reporters, "We're not only going to win, we're going to win big. We're going to blow the rest of the division away."
The 1986 New York Mets improved on the 98-64 record from the previous season, of course, winning 108 games to finish the regular season with a 21.5 game lead in the NL East. The Mets beat the Astros in six games in the NLCS and beat the Red Sox in seven games to win the World Series. As Wally Backman told reporters after that season, the confidence their manager instilled in them affected their performance from the first day of the season.
"'We didn't think we were competing for the division [championship]," Backman told MLB.com's Marty Noble, "Right from the get-go, we thought we were winning it." Johnson told reporters last Spring that the goal from the start was a pennant, winning the division and the National League. The Nats' manager told Washington Post writer Adam Kilgore that he may have "pulled a La Russa" and retired if Washington had been able to win a World Series this year, but since they didn't he said he's motivated to return. "'Is there some unfinished business?'" Johnson told the WaPost's reporter, "'Yeah, there’s some unfinished business.'"
Can't wait to hear what Davey Johnson says on the first day of Spring Training if the Nationals do bring him back...