"I've experienced a lot of things in my career," 70-year-old manager Davey Johnson told reporters tonight before the start of the Washington Nationals' four-game series with the Pittsburgh Pirates. "I've been traded. I've been released. I've been sold. I've been fired. But today is arguably the toughest day I've had in baseball."
Johnson, who disagreed with the decision, had just informed hitting coach Rick Eckstein that the team had decided to relieve him of his duties after six years on the job. "'I felt like I had to be the one to tell him," Johnson told reporters including the Washington Post's Adam Kilgore, "'I owed him that much respect. It didn’t make it any easier.'"
Johnson also revealed that he had offered himself up if the team thought it would make a difference, as NatsInsider.com's Mark Zuckerman quoted Johnson explaining:
"'In my discussions about firing Rick I said there’s other options, you can do away with me if you want a change of scenery or change the philosophy. I’m more concerned at this moment about my club.'"
While acknowledging that the decision to relieve Eckstein of his duties was a decision made by the GM, Mike Rizzo was also clear that he respected Davey Johnson and had no intention of making a move to replace the manager. But he thought a move had to be made to attempt to get the offense going.
"It's a tough day here at Nats Park," Mike Rizzo told reporters, "The guy's been with the family for six years. I've known him for a long time. He's been my hitting coach since I've been a GM and [he's] a guy that I like, respect and think was a vital part of the development of this organization, so it was a very difficult decision.
"A lot of thought went into it. But in this game we always say it's a performance game. And the offense wasn't performing and I felt that it was time to get a new voice, a new dynamic, a new energy and Rick Schu I thought was the perfect guy at the perfect time because I've worked with him before. I was comfortable with him. He knows all the players. He's been a good hitting coach in the majors leagues, knows all our young hitters, and knows a lot of the veteran guys and has a good feel for it."
Schu, a veteran of nine seasons in the majors with the Phillies, Orioles, Tigers, Angels and Expos, has served as the Nationals' minor-league hitting coordinator for the last four years and before that served as the Diamondbacks' hitting coach for "portions of four years," as the Nats' press release today phrased it. Schu was expected to join the team on Tuesday.
Though the Nationals lost 6-5 to the Pirates Monday night, Johnson told reporters after the game that he didn't think the decision to fire Eckstein had negatively affected the Nationals' performance in the loss. "It's great character on this ballclub," the Nats' skipper said, "I've said it a hundred times. I felt a lot of energy tonight as I do a lot of nights. When you swing the bats good. You pitch good. That's what sets the ball rolling. It's called momentum. And we just are fighting to get a little momentum."
The Nationals got a little bit of momentum going late with Jayson Werth hitting two-run blasts in the seventh and ninth innings to get the Nationals within one at 6-5, but after a one-out double by Denard Span, Wilson Ramos struck out and Steve Lombardozzi grounded out to end the Nats' fourth straight loss to start the current homestand. The Nats threatened to come back, but fell short, stranding the tying run on second and a wild pitch by Drew Storen in the top of the eighth that let an inherited runner score ended up being the winning run at the end of a long day for the Nationals. "It's a bad day for me," Johnson said, "I'm glad it's over with."
Before the night ended, however, a reporter had one last question for the Nationals' manager.
"You come from an era when things were done symbolically," the writer began. "When George Steinbrenner wanted to fire Billy Martin, he'd always fire Art Fowler and hope that Billy would quit. There's nothing like that going on now is there with you and Rick?"
"I don't want to go there," Johnson said as he stood up on the dais. "I don't want to go there," he repeated as he walked away.
More from Federal Baseball:
- Game 99 WPA: Well, a bit less bad. Nats 5, Bucs 6
- Pirates 6-5 Over Nationals In D.C.: Andrew McCutchen Hits Two HRs In Win
- Davey Johnson On Nationals Firing Rick Eckstein; Nats' Lineup vs Pirates
- On Davey Johnson, "World Series Or Bust!" And the Nationals
- Nationals Fire Hitting Coach Rick Eckstein; Name Rick Schu New Hitting Coach