Tonight, Johnson was named National League Manager of the Year by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America after leading the Nats to the best record in Major League Baseball and an NL East division title.
It’s Johnson’s second time winning the award as a league’s top manager, and as you might expect, he yet again was able to laugh about his 1997 AL Manager of the Year honor, which was immediately followed by his resignation as Orioles skipper.
“I said early on (this year), if we didn’t win the (division), they should fire me. I had that much confidence in the talent on our ballclub,” Johnson said in a conference call with reporters following the live announcement on MLB Network. “And so we did that, and I was proud of that. But I was worried about getting this award. But it’s a great honor, and I thank you guys for voting me in.”
The Nationals have come a long way in the last 17 months, and so has Johnson. He was thrust into the managerial role with the Nats in the middle of last season after the abrupt resignation by Jim Riggleman, taking over a talented but raw team. He saw the potential his group had, which is why he came out and predicted a division title.
And then Johnson and the Nats delivered.
“Some baseball people thought maybe I was blowing smoke, but the guys all played closer to their level, and we won the (division),” Johnson said. “I mean, that was expected. I thought we would go further. We had a little blip there at the end. I think inexperience cost us in several ways, but ... it was a good steppingstone. But there’s more to come. And I think everyone, to a man, knows it. This award that I got tonight, to me, is more a reflection of the organization than on me.
“I’m just kind of the guy that tries to keep on track. And as a manager, if you do that, you can be proud of yourself. But there’s still a higher ceiling, and that’s the challenge I’m looking for for next year. So this is just a step along the way, as far as I’m concerned.”
Prior to taking over as Nationals manager, Johnson’s last managerial experience had been in the 2008 Summer Olympics and the 2009 World Baseball Classic, when he managed Team USA, and in a Florida summer league. As different as those stages were from the major league level, Johnson says he didn’t have any reservations about taking the reins in D.C.
“(Managing in the Olympics,) you only have one day to work out and you’re searching for their stats over the Internet,” Johnson said. “And then you put them together and you’ve got to make sure you’ve got them in the right batting order when everyone agrees with you and you have the No. 1 guy going first, and all that. It’s no different with major leaguers. You’ve just got to be right. Because the players are going to judge you, and you’re going to judge the players. And I think we were all on the same page.
“That’s the way I judge myself. If we both have that mutual respect and trust and they perform to their level. I think all 25 did it. That’s my job - giving them an opportunity to succeed and giving them an opportunity to expand their roles. That’s baseball. That’s life.”
This is the second night in a row that the Nats have had someone recognized for a major end-of-season award. Bryce Harper won NL Rookie of the Year last night, Gio Gonzalez is a finalist for the NL Cy Young award, which will be presented tomorrow, and Adam LaRoche should receive some votes for NL Most Valuable Player when results are announced Thursday.
It’s been an award-filled last few weeks for the Nationals, which Johnson says reflects on the way the front office put together the roster.
“The organization gave me a lot of good players, and they’re being recognized,” Johnson said. “That’s a tribute to the organization. That means more to me. You always want to try to please your bosses, and they’ve done a great job. I still feel that we have a higher ceiling, that we can do better. And I’m looking forward to that challenge. I hope Gio wins the Cy Young and I hope Adam LaRoche is in line for the MVP. Individual awards don’t mean a whole lot to me, but you like to see players get recognized when they do something good.
“Guys really didn’t overachieve. They played up to their potential, and there’s still a higher ceiling there for a lot of players. So it was a fun season for me, and I look for, with another year of experience, it’s going to set us up to be even stronger and better. And that’s the good news.”