Washington Nationals' manager Davey Johnson's still the bold, honest skipper he was in 1986 when he did his best to motivate the New York Mets on their way to a World Series championship.
A then-41-year-old Davey Johnson led the New York Mets to a 90-72 record and a second place finish behind the Chicago Cubs in the National League East in his first year on the bench in NY in 1984. In 1985, the Mets were 98-64, finishing second again, this time behind St. Louis. When the Mets arrived at Spring Training in 1986, their manager had a message for them. "We're not going to win, we're going to dominate." Asked about the comments in an interview in October 2011 at a celebration of the 25th anniversary of the World Series winning '86 Mets, Johnson explained the motivation behind his bold statement in the Spring of that season. "It's all about progression," the now-69-year-old skipper said, "Early on we had little problems, and solved some of the problems in personnel. And then in '86 we were really a dominant team. We had dominant talent. And if the manager of the team doesn't realize they're dominant, then how can they believe we're dominant. And we were, won 108 games, actually won 116 games to win the World Series."
Heading into Spring Training this year, Johnson wanted to let the Nationals and the world know he thought Washington had the talent to win the NL East and more this season. After his return was officially announced, the manager who took over mid-season for Jim Riggleman in 2011, told reporters that there was one goal this year. "A pennant. Winning the pennant. Winning the division. Winning the National League," the Nats' manager said. "I couldn't have said that last Spring. I didn't think the talent was ready, but after being there and seeing the progress that some of the young players made, I think we definitely can contend and I would be sorely disappointed if we didn't do just that."
In an interview later on in Spring Training, Johnson said the Nationals could fire him if the team didn't make it to the postseason, and he stood by his comments when asked again before the All-Star Break after a first-half in which his Nats finished atop the NL East. A few weeks back PTI's Tony Kornheiser asked the Nats' skipper if he stood by his bold pronouncements and he assured the ESPN host he did. "We've got the best team in our league, man," the Nats' 69-year-old skipper said, "We've shown that."
The effect of Johnson's statements?
In an article marking the 20th anniversary of the Mets' win in 2006, Wally Backman, a member of the '86 team who had a .320/.376/.385 line that season as New York's second baseman, told MLB.com's Marty Noble, "'We didn't think we were competing for the division [championship]. Right from the get-go, we thought we were winning it. You can't plan on being in the World Series. But I think we expected to be.'"
"I think in 1986," Darryl Strawberry recounted in an ESPN chat, "We had the feeling from Day one. in 84 and 85, we were close, and we came into camp in 86, and Davey Johnson told us from the first day of camp that we were going to dominate. We played that way from the first game of the season, and did dominate."
26 years later, Davey Johnson's making the same bold statements he made with the Mets. That's not to say that he doesn't believe in what he tells his team. Johnson's been here before, and while he's surely trying to motivate his players, he also seems to genuinely believe that by simply playing up to their potential the Washington Nationals can do something amazing this season.