VIERA, Fla. - Go ahead, call the Nationals’ Davey Johnson a players’ manager.
Some major league skippers might bristle at that moniker, which to some indicates that they mollycoddle millionaires and refuse to exert their managerial authority. Not Johnson, who values the relationship he culls with his players, figuring the more intimate the understanding of his charges, the better he’s able to perform his job.
“I always try and put a guy in a situation that’s conducive for him to succeed. If by doing that, I get labeled ... as a players’ manager, I can deal with that,” Johnson said. “I’ve played for dictators and I’ve played where you were scared to death to go in and say hello. I hope that they always feel that anything they say to me, it’s going to be between us and it’s only going to explain to me their situation - and I’m the problem-solver.”
The managers Johnson played under during his 13-season major league career - Hank Bauer and Earl Weaver in Baltimore, Eddie Mathews and Clyde King in Atlanta, Danny Ozark in Philadelphia and Herman Franks in Chicago - were a mix of classic field generals, curmudgeonly baseball lifers and forward thinkers ahead of their time.
From them, he learned - sometimes by watching, sometimes by being part of situations - how to interact with players. In 15 seasons as a major league manager, Johnson has a 1,188-931 record (.561), a Manager of the Year Award in 1997 in Baltimore, and a National League pennant and World Series title with the Mets in 1986. Oh, and he has one hard-and-fast rule: Players can talk to the manager about anything, which is much better than clubhouse gossip that might be counterproductive.
“Talk to me because I’m the only one who can solve their problem,” Johnson said. “If that makes me a players’ manager, I guess I’m a players’ manager. But I never really care about how they think about me. ... What I say to the person doesn’t speak nearly as much as I use that person. The loudest language to a player is not what the manager or skipper tells you, it’s how you use him.”
For that reason, Johnson avoids attaching verbal labels to his players.
“I probably will never come up to a player and say, ‘You’re this,’ ‘You’re this’ and ‘You’re that.’ By writing their name in that position, I’m saying, ‘You’re this,’ ” he said.
If an issue crops up, it’s dealt with quickly and efficiently. Then the page is turned, Johnson said. No sense of any lingering worries or bad feelings. Move on to the next day’s challenges and leave yesterday behind.
And for that pragmatic approach, Johnson - at 69, the oldest manager in the majors - makes no apologies.
“I just am what I am,” he said.