The Washington Nationals announced this morning that Davey Johnson would be returning to the bench in 2012 as the Nats' manager. The decision was no surprise. D.C. GM Mike Rizzo all-but confirmed the news last week in a teleconference with reporters, but said at the time that the team would wait until the World Series ended to make an official announcement. The 68-year-old Johnson, a 15-year-veteran skipper, took over on the bench in June when Jim Riggleman abruptly resigned, and led Washington to a 3rd place finish in the NL East with the Nationals 40-43 after he took over and 80-81 overall at the end of the season.
"It really feels great," Davey Johnson said, "It's such a great organization and there's a great bunch of kids and we haven't even come close to the ceiling they're going to get to and I really think that I'm kind of their father figure, I think they really respect me and I think that I'm the guy that can kind of steer them along their path."
Asked about the decision to bring Davey Johnson back and his thoughts on the job Johnson did last season, D.C. GM Mike Rizzo told reporters today, "It's no coincidence that the day I became the interim general manager Davey became special assistant to the general manager on a full-time basis. He was a resource for me through all the early times and the early decisions we made and he was a comfortable guy to have in Spring Training to bounce things off of and he was the easy choice for me when we had to make a change at the major league level."
"The only question I had about Davey taking over was, 'Did he want to do it?'" Rizzo said, "Was his energy level and his focus going to be there and even as early as Spring Training this year I saw a guy that, he just moved around better this year, he always had the fungo in his hand, he was always pounding ground balls to the young guys and he had an energy about him and a bounce to his step that I thought to myself, 'Wow, Davey's really into it and really fired up for the season,' so it couldn't have been a smoother easier decision for me to bring Davey on mid-season and it was just as comfortable and easy a decision after the season to pick up the option and make Davey the leader of the ballclub [in] 2012."
"I've been with the club for a couple of years," Davey Johnson explained when asked about the decision to return to the bench, "The last few Spring Trainings have been really fun for me, being, not only with the big league guys, but the minor league guys and also spending a lot of time with the front office people and it's just a great organization, one of the better ones I've ever been in, if not the best. There was no question I love baseball, the question in my mind really about coming back was could my wife handle it and she loves to travel more than I do so that was a no issue there."
Johnson made the decision to return in his mind in, "...the last two or three weeks," of the 2011 season. "When I had kind of more the mixture of talent I wanted on the ballclub and seeing how they all worked together. That was when I really felt, 'Man, there's so much more we can do here and I need to be here to help see it along.'" Johnson had been open from the start about some of the issues he had with the makeup of the roster he inherited, but as he explained today, "Mike Rizzo and I, since I've met him, we've been on kind of the same page just about every minute of the time. A lot of things, once they're in place and once they're set up, it's kind of hard to change mid-stream. Whether it's the configuration of your bullpen, the makeup of your bench, those are very difficult things to how you feel you need to manage this ballclub."
"I thought we eventually got to that point," Johnson said, "after I was there for a couple of months, and I really liked the talent level and the makeup and it became very much fun. Part of that was a little bit painful because as we talked about I was having to stretch the starters and stretch the relievers and have guys in different roles and my bench was more of a defensive bench, so there was just a lot of things that once they got worked out the game became a lot more fun."
Johnson has high hopes for the 2012 Nationals. "A pennant. Winning the pennant. Winning the division. Winning the National League. 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. The talent's there, obviously we've got to do better than we did in certain areas. Offensively, [we] struck out too much, tried to do too much, didn't make pitchers throw the ball in the strike zone, didn't hit the fastball as well as we should have, a mountain of things, a few things defensively, but I think we definitely can get there and a good Spring Training and a good start...I like the way we stack up against everybody in our division. I'm not just sticking out my chest and saying some hot air. My baseball instincts tell me that that's where we need to be, that's where we need to go and that we can get there."
The only change Davey Johnson and the Nationals announced was that Pat Corrales, who served as Johnson's bench coach, would not be returning to the role next season. "Pat's needed, he's invaluable in the system. His experience. I love him to death and he did a great a job, but we'll probably have a different coach in there." Corrales' replacement, Johnson said was a decision he's discussed with Mike Rizzo, but they weren't making an announcement today.