Beck Diefenbach-US PRESSWIRE
Washington Nationals' manager Davey Johnson said he wanted a pennant last season, but the Nats were only able to win the division. This season the 70-year-old skipper says that it's "World Series or Bust!" and he explained today that it only makes sense after last season's success.
"World Series or Bust!" It's the unofficial motto of the 2013 Washington Nationals. The quote is the latest in a series of bold preseason pronouncements by Nats' skipper Davey Johnson, who famously declared early in 1986 that for his New York Mets coming off a 98-64 second place finish in the NL East in 1985, just winning the division wasn't enough. "We're not going to win," Johnson is said to have said as soon as he arrived at Spring Training, "We're going to dominate."
As Johnson explained it in 2011, at a 25th Anniversary celebration of the '86 World Series championship, he wasn't blowing smoke. "We had dominant talent," Johnson said in an interview posted on YouTube, "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."
Johnson, who was already in the Washington Nationals' organization, working as a special assistant to GM Mike Rizzo, was asked to and agreed to return to the bench in the majors after Jim Riggleman resigned abruptly in late June of 2011. The then-68-year-old manager took over a 40-38 team and guided the Nationals to an 80-81 record and a 3rd place finish in the NL East and he came away convinced he could help the team take the next step, declaring after his return in 2012 was officially announced in November of 2011 that he was setting his sights high. The goal? "A pennant," Johnson said.
"Winning the pennant. Winning the division. Winning the National League," the manager continued. The Nationals took the division for the first time, finishing 98-64, but fell short of Johnson's stated goal of winning the National League and getting to the World Series. So, of course that's the goal this time around, but the team is built to remain competitive. Johnson said today that though he's in his last season, the team was put together the right way:
"The Lerner family has hired really good baseball people in the front office. And I think [Mike Rizzo] has done a great job of putting together this group of guys. There's pretty good depth. There's maybe a little bit of a gap, a lot of our young hosses are down at Double-A, but the future is very bright. I mean, there's still an upside to a lot of guys at this level."
"I said last year, we were not quite a .500 club," Johnson said before Tuesday's Grapefruit League game against Atlanta when his bold "World Series or Bust" pronouncement was brought up again, "And I inherited a club in  that in mid-season [was] a little different than I would have put together. But I said if we play up to our potential we can win our division. And then, being as this is my last year, it wasn't any great, earth-shaking news, 'World Series or bust,' because I think that we've already won [the division], we've been in the postseason and with that experience and with the talent level that's here, our goal should be higher."
"There's no sense in me romancing anybody," Johnson said, "and telling you that, 'Jeez, we'll be lucky if we win the division,' or be lucky if we go far in the playoffs. Maybe I'm just covering my [butt]. But my [butt] is going to be gone anyway. But, I think, I'm not telling these players anything that they don't believe themselves."