Washington Nationals manager Davey Johnson answers questions from the media during the Major League Baseball winter meetings at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel (Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports)
WUSA 9 Sports Anchor Dave Owens is taking a closer look at the Washington Nationals' manager in his weekly opinion column.
WASHINGTON (WUSA9) -- When you look at Washington Nationals Manager Davey Johnson, you sort of get the feeling you're looking at a cross between Yoda from Star Wars and that dude from the Most Interesting Man in the World commercials.
"What's up guys?" said Johnson with a smile as he strolled past a group of reporters during a recent spring training practice. The 70-year-old was bundled up appropriately for a 38 degree morning. Was he cold? He certainly looked it. One thing we know for sure, however, he was cool. Washington's field manager is just that: a cool cat. In the year plus he's led D.C.'s up-and-coming baseball franchise, the metaphorical bullet proof vest which he and every manager wears, has been tested. By now we know Johnson is made of Kevlar.
Last season during "operation shutdown Strasburg" when pundits locally, regionally and nationally questioned the rationale to pull the team's ace, Johnson never flinched. He towed the company line and supported the discontinuance of the Almighty Righty. Recently I sat down with him at spring training in Viera, Florida and again, Johnson reiterated his support for the way the team handled Strasburg.
"I totally agreed with the decision," said Johnson. "The mental anguish he (Strasburg) was going through, if you're not 100 percent committed on what you're doing on that day and you're thinking about your next start and maybe not having one, it's hard to pitch."
When the Nationals squandered the largest lead in an elimination game in Major League Baseball history, Johnson handled reporter's questions with deft expertise.
"We've had a great year overcoming a lot of hardship," said Johnson moments after the gut punch of a loss. "To not go after them at the end was not fun to watch." He was brutally honest but also cool, calm and collected.
This winter when the Nationals acquired reliever Rafael Soriano from the Yankees, a move that essentially demoted others including Drew Storen, the team's closer a year ago, Johnson was faced with potential drama. Both Storen and Tyler Clippard have said they want the ball in critical moments. There were three competitive relievers and one rock. How did Johnson respond to that?
"It'll shake itself out. I'm not worried about those guys not one bit." Cool.
No one should be surprised though. Davey is battled tested, hardened by a long career of superlatives and shakeups for that matter. People forget he was a two-time World Series Champion player with the Orioles. As manager, he resurrected Baltimore in the mid-1990's, and then resigned after a messy dispute with owner Peter Angelos.
He's probably best known for his stewardship of the 1986 Mets. The cardiac kids who battled back in the World Series to defeat the Red Sox when all looked lost. That group was a motley crew. Some of the most high profile, high strung, high risk characters to ever grace a roster: Dwight Gooden, Darryl Strawberry, Roger McDowell, Lenny Dykstra, Keith Hernandez, just to name a few. He handled that bunch; surely he can handle this one.
Johnson has a mantra: don't get too high or too low. His cool hand will be tested this season, however. The Nationals have never been here. By "here" I mean on top, a favorite, and the hunted.
"What if you start out 11-11," I asked him during our sit-down interview. "Are you concerned the fan base might ask what's wrong?"
"We're not gonna start out 11-11, I try to take as much pressure off the players as possible," said Johnson. "I think the D.C. fans are rightly to be excited and they should expect a lot. I've been in places where if they (fans) didn't get what they wanted they booed and I hope our guys boo too because we're expecting the same thing they're expecting."
Johnson says all this with a wry smile. High expectations, World Series or bust, you get the sense he loves this. The sight of him in the dugout for this upcoming 162-game ride should make Nationals fans feel good about their team's chances.
Surely behind closed doors he'll be reminding this young group to not get too high or too low. That the San Francisco Giants began last season 12-14 only to go on to win the whole thing. He might even lose his temper every once in awhile, behind closed doors. In front of us, he'll sure to be cool as a cucumber.