The dugout is where Nats skipper Johnson belongs
ST. LOUIS -- In his late 60s, Davey Johnson was removed from the big league challenges.He'd won a World Series championship with the New York Mets in 1986, led the Cincinnati Reds to the National League Championship Series in 1995, and taken Baltimore to the American League Championship Series in 1996 (and '97), the Orioles' first postseason appearance since 1983. But he had spent more than a decade without filling out a big league lineup card.
And then the Washington Nationals came calling. With Jim Riggleman resigning in late June 2011 because he wasn't guaranteed of returning in 2012, Johnson, a special assistant to general manager Mike Rizzo, was asked to return to the dugout.Johnson not only finished the 2011 season, but returned for the 2012 season, in which the Nationals won the NL East title, and on Sunday at St. Louis will make only the second postseason appearance in the history of a franchise created as the Montreal Expos as part of 1969 expansion. "I like the challenge of baseball, but I liked it when I managed the Netherlands [National team in 2003] and Team USA [in the 2008 Summer Olympics and 2009 World Baseball Classic], even when I managed the [college] wood-bat league in Florida," said Johnson. "I didn't feel like I had a particular desire to manage in the big leagues again." Those around Johnson could sense that desire, which grew the longer he was away from the big leagues.
"The more I was around him, the more I could see the [managerial] fire burning," said Marcel Lachemann. "There was no doubt in my mind [he would manage again]. It is just such a natural thing for him."
Lachemann worked with Johnson on Team USA in the 2006 World Baseball Classic when Lachemann was the pitching coach and Johnson the bench coach, and again as the pitching coach for Team USA when Johnson was the manager in both the 2008 Summer Olympics and 2009 Classic.
"Last time I talked to Lach was when [Stephen] Strasburg had a no-hitter through six [innings in the Olympics against Netherlands] and I told Lach, 'I hope he gives up a hit, because I'm hooking him after seven.'"
Johnson originally joined the Nationals as a consultant to former Washington general manager Jim Bowden and was moved into a senior adviser role to Bowden's replacement, Rizzo, following the 2009 season.
"He called me and said he had a job like mine, except he got a golf cart and I didn't," said Lachemann.
Slightly more than two years later, Johnson was back in the dugout, where, Lachemann said, he belongs.
"He has such a feel for the job," said Lachemann. "There was never a doubt in my mind that he'd be back there and be successful. He knows how to handle players and he knows how to handle a pitching staff."
His resume is testimony to Johnson's abilities.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.