Bringing in Jim Riggleman to replace Manny Acta back in 2009 was a quizzical move. Riggleman didn’t have a history of winning in the majors, and he would be the one taking care of prized prospect Stephen Strasburg’s arm. Riggleman of course, is the man who was leading the Cubs when Kerry Wood blew out his elbow in 1999. So anyway, the Riggleman selection was bizarre. With the Nats as a young team on the rise, many expected them to finish out this season with bench coach John McLaren running the show, and then look for a manager who could lead them for many years into the future in the offseason.
Tonight, ESPN is reporting that the Nationals have found a successor for Riggleman that will manage for the rest of this year, and for next season. It’s not third base coach Bo Porter. It’s not a hot young managerial talent working their way up through the minors. It’s….former Mets, Reds, Orioles, and Dodgers skipper Davey Johnson. Johnson hasn’t managed in the majors since 2000, when he led the Dodgers to an 86-76 record.
Johnson has a track record of being a good manager. His career winning percentage is .564, and he won the 1986 World Series with the Mets. As Mets manager, Johnson was over .500 in each of his first six seasons, finishing first or second in every year. His tenure ended with the team two games under .500 in 1990. Johnson took over the Reds in 1993, and after finishing out the string there, won the NL Central in 1995 after being in first in 1994 when the strike hit. Johnson then took his talents to Baltimore, He won the wild card with the 1996 Orioles, and won the division with the 1997 team, losing in the ALCS both years. After a year off in 1998, Johnson managed the Dodgers for two seasons, finishing third and eight games under .500 in 1999 and second in 2000. That 1999 season is the only full season of Johnson’s career where his team finished under .500.
This is a really interesting hire. His name hasn’t been thought about in managing circles for years, and the man is now 68 years of age. Bobby Cox retired at the age of 69, and now, Johnson is coming out of retirement at age 68 and is going to manage a young club. Is it going to work out? Only time will tell. But man, look at the managers in the NL East right now. Jack McKeon of the Marlins is 80, Johnson is 68, Charlie Manuel of the Phillies is 67, Terry Collins of the Mets is 62…Fredi Gonzalez of the Braves looks like a young man at 47. It would only be appropriate for the Braves to fire him and bring Cox back for one last hurrah, so that all the managers could go out and spend their social security checks on an early bird special dinner.
But anyway, enough with my ageist rants. Back to Johnson. I think he’ll end up being a good hire for the Nationals, provided that he hasn’t lost a step in his old age. He seems like the perfect guy to bridge the gap into the 2013 season, when Bryce Harper will be in the majors, and Stephen Strasburg will be 100%. By then, the Nats will be a very, very scary team. I just hope that Johnson keeps some of Riggleman’s quirks intact, like hitting the pitcher eighth, and leading off with Jayson Werth. Those were some good things he did, and I hope Johnson was watching and taking notes.