"Winning the pennant. Winning the division. Winning the National League," Davey Johnson said last October when asked what his goals were after he officially announced he would return to the nation's capital to manage the Washington Nationals in 2012. More than a few people thought the manager of a team that had won 80 games in 2011 and never posted a winning record, had lost it.
Johnson, however, believed what he said. "I couldn't have said that last Spring," Johnson admitted, "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 at the start of Spring Training, the Nats' 69-year-old skipper spoke to CSNWashington.com's Kelli Johnson and boldly told the reporter that the team could fire him if he didn't lead the Nationals to the first postseason appearance since baseball returned to the nation's capital in 2005 and the first by a team based in Washington, D.C. since 1933.
Johnson told the CSNWashington.com reporter he truly believed his team was prepared to compete with the National League's elite.
"No question in my mind," Davey Johnson said, and if the Nats don't make it, "They can fire me.'"
"Strong words," CSNWashington.com's Kelli Johnson said.
"We should make the playoffs," Davey Johnson responded, "There's no doubt in my mind."
In another March interview with Sirius/XM's Chris "Mad Dog" Russo, Johnson explained the basis for his thinking the team could compete. "As a baseball man," Johnson said, "I look at the potential, the upside of everybody. If we just play to our potential, we don't have to play over it. If guys start doing things I know they're capable of doing, I think we can win the pennant."
When CSNWashington.com's Kelli Johnson caught up with the Nats' manager again a few weeks back before the All-Star Break, the reporter reminded Johnson of his comments this Spring. He hadn't changed his mind about what the first place Nationals could accomplish. "This is right where I expected us to be if I didn't muck it up along the way," Johnson said, "The guys are really playing good. They're playing up to their potential. And that's really just come about here lately."
Asked if his public comments gave his team the confidence to do what they've done so far this year, the manager downplayed the significance of his statements, and said his team now had the same confidence he's always had in them. "They expect to be good," Johnson said, "And they expect to play good, and if I didn't expect them to play good they'd think I was an idiot!"
"I'm not going to be happy with anything less [than winning the division]," Johnson said, "And I would hope the fans and ownership wouldn't be happy with anything less."
After last night's win over the Milwaukee Brewers, which lifted the Nationals 20 games over .500 into a tie with the New York Yankees for the best record in baseball on July 27th, Johnson reiterated what he's been saying for over a year. "I think I said this in August of last year," Johnson said, "We have the talent here, the makeup, if we just play up to our abilities, we'll be fine. We can win a pennant."
With his team in first place in the NL East and making his comments over the last year appear prescient, the manager isn't backing off his bold predictions. In an appearance on the MLB Network Radio show Ripken Baseball with Cal and Billy Ripken, the Nats' skipper stood by his strong words from this Spring when they were brought up again and Johnson doubled down on what he said the Nationals could do if he doesn't lead the team to a pennant. "I really meant that," Johnson said, "if we don't get there they should fire my a**!"
• Listen To Davey Johnson's Appearance on MLB Network Radio's Ripken Baseball Here:
Nats manager Davey Johnson talked Stephen Strasburg, innings limits, and pitching depth on Ripken Baseball. AUDIO: bit.ly/O5NJC9— MLB Network Radio (@MLBNetworkRadio) July 27, 2012