Johnson to revisit 'normalcy,' join history
With big league journey over, retiring manager takes place among greats
PHOENIX -- On account of the retirements of Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Todd Helton and Mark Kotsay, the last game for Davey Johnson as manager of the Nationals has seemingly fallen through the cracks.
But just as sure as the leaves are about to turn colors in so many areas of the country, Johnson reiterated Sunday before his Nationals lost, 3-2, to the D-backs at Chase Field that he was managing for the last time in the Major Leagues after 17 seasons, covering 30 years.
"That's it, time to go home, put me out to pasture," said Johnson, who planned to take the auto train back to Florida on Monday after the team returned to Washington.
Johnson was planning a golfing outing with his buddies for Wednesday, and he said it would be back to a normal life: golf each week Monday, Wednesday and Friday. There's a trip to Bora Bora in the offing when the fish are jumping next spring.
Meanwhile he will begin to unwind and relax. If there were any queries about managing for another big league team this offseason, Johnson nipped that prospect in the bud. The All-Star infielder and three-time Gold Glove-winner as a player will be turning 71 in January.
"First of all, I wouldn't know their talent level, wouldn't know their organization," he said of offers from other teams. "I wouldn't be a good fit. You know, I never say never to anything. I'm always open to new challenges. But I don't see it as a challenge that would get my motor really revved up."
And so, another era is coming to an end. In succession since the finale of the 2010 season, every epic manager of this generation has retired from the dugout: Joe Torre, Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa, Lou Piniella, Cito Gaston and now Johnson. There are a combined 12 World Series titles between them, and La Russa, Cox and Torre are Nos. 3-5 on the all-time regular-season wins list.
Of that generation of managers, only Jim Leyland of the Tigers remains active perhaps without any respite in sight, although he purports now to be on a year-to-year basis.
Of the retired group, all are eligible for the National Baseball Hall of Fame this December when the 16-person Post-Expansion Veterans Committee gathers for a vote.
Torre, with four World Series rings and 14 consecutive trips to the postseason with the Yankees and Dodgers, appears to be a sure thing. Cox, whose Braves won one World Series, went to the postseason 14 consecutive times and 15 in all, is another can't miss. La Russa, with a World Series title in Oakland and two in St. Louis, plus 2,728 regular-season wins -- behind only Connie Mack and John McGraw -- should also get in.
The rules for qualification are simple: If a manager is 65 or older and is not expected to manage again, he can be considered for the ballot.
Johnson, with 1,372 wins to 1,071 losses and a World Series title with the 1986 Mets, should at least be included in the mix.
"I'm not going to rank them, but Davey is one of the best who has ever managed in the big leagues," said Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo, who hired Johnson when Jim Riggleman abruptly resigned midway through the 2011 season.
Johnson was a senior advisor at the time to Rizzo, a position the GM has said Johnson will again maintain. Johnson had not managed in the Majors for 11 years, having been dismissed by the Dodgers following an 86-76 season in 2000, the same record as this, his final season.
Rizzo said he had no qualms about the long gap in Johnson's hands-on experience when he brought him back to the bench.
"The time he was away from managing certainly didn't affect his knowledge of the game, his feel for players and the way he went about his business," Rizzo said. "He was a terrific manager, both Xs and Os and in the clubhouse. His winning percentage reflects that, and the respect the players have for him reflects that."
But Johnson kept busy in his time away from the big leagues. He managed the Netherlands team in the 2004 Summer Olympics and Team USA in the 2008 Olympics and 2009 World Baseball Classic, adding an international flare to his resume.
He said he was "burnt out" when he left the Dodgers after two years, that coming after short stints managing the Orioles and Reds and seven years with the Mets. His daughter was sick after the 2000 season, and he said he needed to get home.
"It wasn't like I was dead or anything," he said. "I managed in Athens in that ugly orange and white of the Netherlands. I was in Beijing with the U.S. All those experiences have meant just as much to me as being in a big league uniform. I was able to play baseball at all levels and see the world. How they play in Russia and France, countries where I never dreamed they had baseball."
Now, he says he is content to blend back into the shadows. Once again the senior advisor to Rizzo, he was asked if he would offer any advice about picking his successor.
"Of course, I love these guys on my coaching staff," he said in an obvious nod to bench coach Randy Knorr, a serious candidate. "But that's entirely up to Rizz. The last manager he hired did a pretty good job: me. So he's got pretty good judgment."
Under Johnson, the Nationals were 224-183 and were eliminated by the Cardinals last season in the ninth inning of Game 5 of the National League Division Series. This season, the expectations may have been too high both externally and internally. And the Braves played outstanding ball to run away from the rest of the NL East. The fact that Johnson's Nats did not live up to those expectations is nothing to hang their collective heads about. As he departs, the organization is in much better shape than when he again put on the uniform.
"I feel melancholy because this is a great group of guys," Johnson said. "It's a great organization, is a city that made me love big league baseball because of the Senators. So I feel very fortunate that life has come around full circle.
"I'm at the end of my big league journey. Period."
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.