Nationals manager has had quite the wide-ranging career in Major League Baseball
NEW YORK -- The fence runs from Baltimore to Atlanta to Tokyo to Philadelphia to Chicago to Norfolk, Va., to New York to Cincinnati, back to Baltimore, to Los Angeles and finally to Washington D.C. Pretty long fence! And now I'm sitting on it, wondering whether the man who built the fence, one of the most successful managers baseball has known since the mid-80s, might be worthy of one more extension of that long fence, one that reaches Cooperstown, N.Y.
The question: Is Davey Johnson worthy of a plaque and a permanent place in baseball's Smithsonian?
That possibility certainly is worth a conversation or several hundred words at this site and at this time as Johnson manages -- probably for the last time -- in the city where he made his most conspicuous mark as a man with a marvelous mind in the dugout. He was at Citi Field on Monday night with his undeniably disappointing Nationals, his second-place and out-of-it Nationals, the defending National League East champions who have defended no more effectively than the Ravens did against the Broncos on Thursday night.
Had the 2013 Nationals performed as had been expected, had they performed as well as they did last season or had they at least reached the World Series last year, the Cooperstown conversation as it applies to their manager would be a few degrees warmer. It even could rise to the level of an argument. One more postseason success -- last year or this -- added to all Johnson's teams have achieved and his retirement next month would leave a resumé as powerful as Mark Reynolds and as handsome as George Clooney.
As it is, Johnson's record will include at least a World Series championship, a pennant and six division championships. Moreover, his six division championships have come with four teams -- the Mets (1986 and '88), the Reds (1994 and '95), the Orioles (1997) and the Nationals (2012), and they have been interspersed with six second-place finishes. A seventh is likely.
But this Johnson -- David Allen Johnson, 70, of Orlando, Fla. -- is among the game's most accomplished Johnsons (Walter, Randy, Howard, Alex, Deron, Darrell, Charles, Lance and Jim) for accomplishments other than those as a manager. He was a defensively gifted second baseman (three Gold Gloves) for Orioles teams that were elite in their time and later slugged 43 home runs in one season with the Braves, three more than teammate Henry Aaron and two more than teammate Darrell Evans. And when his best days were behind him, Johnson hit two pinch-hit grand slams in one season.
And he's had something of a Forrest Gump life in the game. From managing the Jeffrey Maier Game to hitting the fly ball that was the final out in the greatest upset in World Series play (Mets-Orioles, 1969), from managing Games 6 of the 1986 World Series and NLCS to playing with Aaron and Sadaharu Oh, from producing the final hit surrendered by Sandy Koufax to stepping between Roberto Alomar and John Hirschbeck, from managing Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry to ushering Bryce Harper into the big leagues, from being the first American to play with the Yomiuri Giants to shifting Cal Ripken from shortstop to third base.
Not to be overlooked is his work in international baseball with the Netherlands teams in the World Baseball Classic and Olympics.
The Hall is about fame ... and accomplishment. The Veterans Committee can weigh a candidate's full body of work in the game. A composite .561 winning percentage as a manager is a compelling figure on its own. And there's almost enough other good stuff to push me to the "he's in" side of the fence.
Johnson's candidacy doesn't rise to the level of, say, Joe Torre's. He was not as a player, a manager or a comparable jack of all trades. Torre's a HOF certainty.
But a summer weekend in Cooperstown could happen for Johnson. I can't see how anyone could be offended by his inclusion. He can't be ignored.
But the damn fence remains. And I'm still seated on it.
Johnson is neither holding his breath nor crossing his fingers.
"Those sorts of things are about what I've done, and I prefer living in the present and the future," he said Monday night. "I'm in the Mets Hall of Fame and proud that I am. I'm in the Florida Hall of Fame [for successes in and outside the game], and I'm pleased with that. And I'm in the Orioles' Hall. That's great, too. And I know I'm a candidate [for Cooperstown]. And it's fulfilling to know that I'm recognized.
"I'm not a nostalgic person. I have some gloves that I like to look at once in a while."
But no World Series lineup card, no pawn shop spheres noting the Johnson, Evans, Aaron season.
"If someone asked about all the stuff I have, I'd say, 'Here, sell it.' But my wife wants to hang on to it. I think she thinks it'll be worth more after I'm gone."
Some items certainly will fetch more if Johnson gains a place in the Hall. It wouldn't be the worst thing.