WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 04: Manager Davey Johnson #5 of the Washington Nationals argues a call with first base umpire Sam Holbrook during the game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Nationals Park on May 4, 2012 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
Washington Nationals' skipper Davey Johnson signed with the Baltimore Orioles as an amateur free agent in 1962 and he made his MLB debut with the O's back on April 13, 1965. Over eight seasons and 995 games in an Orioles uniform, Johnson had a .259/.330/.378 line with 186 doubles and 66 HR's, helping the franchise to four World Series appearances and two World Series Championships in 1966 and 1970. After his playing days ended, Johnson returned to the franchise as a manager from 1996-97, leading the team to a division title in 1997 before leaving the organization. Despite his acrimonious departure, the manager told reporters this afternoon that he still follows the franchise closely and is pleased to see the success they're having this season. "I love coming back and playing Baltimore," the now-69-year-old skipper said, "I spent so many years as a player [with the Orioles], and I mean, I picked them when I signed, when I could have signed with any other team. So, I've always followed the Orioles and whatever was going on with them ever since I was a teenager, and that's a long time."
"But I'm really happy that they're playing great," Johnson continued, "[They're] on top of their division, it's a tough division. We're getting ready to go in our division right after we finish with them, so I think it's only perfect that we tune up hopefully on the Orioles." The veteran of 13 seasons as a player and 16 as a manager reminisced about his time in the O's organization in today's pre-game press conference, and said that it was tough to watch the team struggle as they have in the last decade-plus, finishing above 3rd only once since they last made a playoff appearance under his guidance in 1997. "No question about it," Johnson said, "Any time you play for a club or manage a club, they become your favorites and you want to see them do well."
"I thought they were going to do well right after I left," the Nationals' manager explained, "I really liked the ballclub I had, thought they were going to do well in '98 and they didn't do so hot and it's been kind of slim pickings ever since then. But I've seen them jump out and play good, break out of the game good. That was always an Orioles' trademark, so I'm happy for them."
Asked about his favorite memories from his time in the O's organization, Davey Johnson recalled the names of the teammates he played with that he said were more like a family for him, naming Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, Boog Powell, Paul Blair and Jim Palmer in particular. "They were characters," Johnson said, "It was more of a family. It was my first big league team. We tried to live close to each other, we did things off the field. We partied a lot, the Hoffbergers believed in partying. Of course we won a lot, so we had a lot to party for. I remember the time when Frank Robinson, after we won in '66, he fell in the swimming pool and Andy Etchebarren and I were looking down on him and he was on the bottom of the pool and we both jumped in and saved him."
"He didn't know how to swim," Johnson joked, "And he was nothing but rock hard muscle, and we didn't know why he went in the pool, but we damn sure weren't going to let him drown." Asked if he ever reminds Robinson that he saved him, Johnson said, "No. I don't bring that up. He probably thought I pushed him in. But we had our feet dangling in the water and we heard a splash and Etch and I both looked down there and said, 'Look at Frank. He's swimming. No, he ain't coming up.' So we went after him, but boy that was a scare."
"But those were great times," Johnson concluded, "I mean, it's funny, I remember those more than sweeping the Dodgers four straight and all the times I used to kick [Earl] Weaver's [butt] on the golf course." As the Nats' manager, Johnson now leads the team in Interleague play with his old team for the first time. The only thing he doesn't like about Interleague play, Johnson explained, "... is the uneven schedule that it creates. That's the mathematician in me. I like everything on an equal footing when you have one winner in each division. That's why I like a balanced schedule. And I think sometimes it can be tilted unfairly and help teams get into the playoffs, but I think it's great, I enjoy it and I know the fans enjoy it."