PHOENIX - During reporters’ pregame session with Davey Johnson this morning, a couple questions were fired at the 70-year-old skipper about what it feels like knowing today is his last game as a major league manager.
Has it hit him yet? How long will it take to get used to life away from the game?
“It’s not like I’m dying tomorrow! Good lord,” Johnson said, drawing laughter from reporters. “There’ll be something I can do.
“I’m ready to play this game today. Fly (back to D.C.). Pack up. Something I’m used to doing. And then go home.”
Once back in D.C., Johnson will collect his things and hop a train down to Orlando, where he makes his home with his wife Susan. He’ll gear up for a round of golf on Wednesday and enjoy the relaxation that comes with the offseason.
Johnson will step away from a big league dugout after today’s game, but he isn’t stepping away from baseball. He already has been offered a job managing in the Florida Collegiate Summer League next summer, and will keep an open mind as far as what else he’ll do in the coming months and years, as he looks to continue a career that has seen him make quite a few stops around the baseball world in the last five decades, as a player and as a manager.
“I’ve been to Athens. I’ve been in ugly orange and white of the Netherlands. And then Beijing,” Johnson said. “All those experiences have really meant as much to me as putting on a big-league uniform. That was always a boyhood dream, that I could be a big-league ballplayer. But I knew that was going to be after I got taken to Tinker Field by Joe Haines. I knew, ‘This is what I want to be.’ And I was real fortunate along the way to be able to put on a big-league uniform. But I feel just as fortunate that I was able to play baseball at all levels and see the world, how they play in Russia and France and countries I never even dreamed have baseball.
“So I feel melancholy, because this is a great group of guys and I love the organization and I’m finishing up in the city that made me love big-league baseball, the old Senators. So I feel very fortunate. My life has come full circle. It’s the end of my big-league journey, period. I know that.”
Asked what he’d do if he got a call this offseason from a team offering him a big league managing job, Johnson said he wouldn’t have interest.
“I wouldn’t know the talent level, wouldn’t know the organization,” Johnson said. “I wouldn’t be a good fit. I think those are the things you have to, you have to know the talent there. That would be something, I’m always open. I never say ‘Never’ to anything. I’m always open for new challenges. But I don’t see that as being a challenge that would get my motor really revved up.”
Johnson doesn’t expect to give the Nationals any type of speech or anything before or after today’s game. He did that last night, briefly thanking the players for batting hard this season. He also expects to turn the reigns over to his coaches during today’s game, probably letting bench coach Randy Knorr make the pitching changes.
When looking back over the last two-plus seasons as manager, Johnson has had a number of high moments. He declined to pick a favorite, but clearly has enjoyed this stage of his baseball journey in D.C.
“It was very unexpected,” Johnson said. “I thought I was doing a pretty good job, smoothing things over with the ball club (as an adviser). They went off on a good road trip, I was fishing and out of the clear blue, (Jim Riggleman) resigns. I felt like I was up for it - but I wasn’t planning on it. It’s been a great experience. I knew ownership and I knew the front office from the two years I’d been around in spring training so it was kind of like putting the same old shoes on. Very comfortable. ...
“I always, everywhere I go, my goal is to make the team better. As a manager, you’re a problem-solver. Solve the problems, have everything in place to constantly be getting better. In my mind, anyway, I feel like I’ve done that everywhere I’ve been. It’s not that way in other people’s minds, but in my mind. And I feel that this organization is in great (shape). ... Just a little tweaking going forward and it should be a lot of fun here in Washington.”
General manager Mike Rizzo has offered Johnson a role as senior adviser to the general manager going forward, and he said some of Johnson’s duties could include being in uniform during spring training, assisting with drills and helping coaches. But Johnson says he doesn’t plan on taking Rizzo up on that offer, out of respect for whoever takes over for him.
“Whoever is in this uniform next year, I want them to be putting it on without them thinking I want it back,” Johnson said. “Because I don’t.”
He’ll head to Bora Bora with Susan around April or May and stay at a beautiful hotel on the water. He’ll look for a new challenge. And he’ll surely reflect on some special times in his times in the big leagues.
“I felt really lucky to have had the big league experiences I’ve had as a player and as a manager,” Johnson said. “When you love a game as much as I love this game and like the competition, you just enjoy it. It’s not like, I don’t worry about what happened or what I did or where I was at. Those are experiences that hopefully make you smarter and hopefully you can pass that on to some other players or managers and give something back.
“It’s been quite a journey. A fun journey.”