Davey Johnson played for Earl Weaver's Baltimore Orioles from 1968-72, winning three AL Pennants and one World Series with the legendary skipper. Weaver died today at 82 years of age. Johnson, 69, who'll match his old manager with 17 seasons on the bench in his final year in the nation's capital in 2013, released the following statement after the news of Weaver's passing was announced this afternoon:
"'I grew up in the minor leagues with Earl Weaver and we proceeded to spend a significant portion of our lives together. He was as intense a competitor as I have ever met. No one managed a ballclub or a pitching staff better than Earl. He was decades ahead of his time. Not a game goes by that I don’t draw on something Earl did or said. I will miss him every day.'"
On a national broadcast of a Nationals game on FOX in late 2011, after Davey Johnson took over on the bench following Jim Riggleman's abrupt resignation, D.C. GM Mike Rizzo was asked if he was concerned about a then-68-year-old Johnson connecting and relating to today's major league players. "I have no worries, whatsoever," Rizzo said.
The Nats' general manager then offered a scouting report on the new Nationals' skipper with echoes of the way Johnson described Weaver today. "Davey's always been on the cutting edge," Rizzo said, "This is a guy who was employing sabermetrics before there were even sabermatricians, so this guy is, like I said, he's a thinking-man's manager, he's a players' manager, and he's a guy who loves the game, knows the game inside-out and has a track record that's second-to-none."
Johnson noted in his comments on Weaver's passing today that he thought about him every time he managed a game and he's spoken of his old skipper often with reporters over the last year and a half as the Nationals' manager. Following the Nationals' 3-2 Game 1 win in the NLDS with the St. Louis Cardinals, Johnson invoked Weaver's old maxim about sacrificing outs, joking with reporters about his decision to have Danny Espinosa bunt Michael Morse and Ian Desmond over with his team down 2-1 in the eighth inning after Morse had reached on an error and moved to second on a single by Desmond.
"Sacrifice means you are giving up something," Weaver famously said, "In this instance, you’re giving up an out to the opposition." While Weaver's words ran through Johnson's mind, he assessed the situation and decided to have Espinosa bunt, which the second baseman did, successfully. "I don't like to bunt," Johnson said after the game, "I'm coming from the old Earl Weaver school, 'Let's keep swinging.' Don't like to steal that much either. I don't like to give up outs. But that was a situation where I felt like if I get the winning run in scoring position... and Danny did a heck of job, perfect bunt."
Espinosa moved both runners into scoring position and they both scored when rookie outfielder Tyler Moore hit an opposite field single to right to give Washington a 3-2 lead on the road in Busch Stadium. Johnson had his mentor's words in mind, but decided to do what he felt was best in that particular situation. That it worked out probably shouldn't surprise anyone. As Frank Robinson, who played for Weaver and with Johnson from 1968-71, said before Game 3 of the NLDS in D.C., his former teammate has had success everywhere he's gone in the game.
"Davey's had success wherever he's been," Robinson said, "So [it's'] not a surprise." As for their playing days together, the Hall of Famer said Johnson was, "... a good headsy hitter, a good headsy player, and he was a thinker. And if [Orioles' manager] Earl [Weaver] would hold still long enough, he would tell Earl how to do things. Earl wasn't having too much of it, but Davey was a real thinker back then." Johnson still is a real thinker, and he learned it from Weaver, who had the best winning percentage (.583) among living managers with at least 1,000 games on the bench at the end of the 2012 season.
With Weaver's passing, Johnson (.564) takes his place atop that list.