In final season, Johnson looks to go out on top
Manager likes Nats' talent level; club out to prove it's championship-type team
Davey Johnson said 2013 will be his last year as manager of the Nationals, and he's hoping to go out on top.
Washington is favored to win the National League East for the second year in a row, but Johnson believes the team will go further than that. In December, Johnson made a bold statement, saying that he wants a World Series title with the Nats before he retires.
"I think we're in a perfect position to show the world that we're a pretty good ballclub, and we can go farther into the postseason, and I want to be a part of that," Johnson said at the Winter Meetings. "I still have a love of the game, and I have a love of this organization. 'World Series or bust,' that's probably the slogan this year, but I'm comfortable with that."
MLB.com caught up with Johnson recently to talk about his final season with the Nationals.
MLB.com: You are close to Opening Day. Do you still feel it's World Series or bust?
Johnson: Yes, of course. I like the talent level. They did the things last year to prove not only to me, but everybody else, that we are a contending, championship-type team. As they always say, "The proof is always in the pudding." You have to go do it. I like the talent, I like the makeup. I think they are driven.
MLB.com: Could this potentially be the best team you have managed?
Johnson: My job is to analyze potential, whether it's a rookie or a veteran. I think everybody to a man would admit there is a lot of talent on this ballclub and there is a lot of room to get better, because the majority of the guys are awful young. Last year was a big step, because they handled the situation very well through adversity, which is another good barometer in measuring the team. The beauty of baseball is, you are only good as you play that day, and my guys accept that. They know it's a series of a bunch of battles.
MLB.com: What is your biggest concern about the team right now?
Johnson: I'm not worried about them mentally. They are up for the task. I think they are all very close to being ready to start the season. There are several guys that are not where I want them to be, but we have five games left before Opening Day. They are at that point where they are about to be feel comfortable. It's about feeling relaxed, comfortable and going out and express your talent. I think the younger guys are closer to being ready than some of the veterans, so that's a good thing.
MLB.com: You decided to call it quits after this season. Why is this your last year? It seems you have a lot left in the tank.
Johnson: Who knew that I was going to be here in 2011, much less '12? And here I am in '13. I'm not trying to make an issue out of it. It's not an issue with me at all. I think I'm the right person right now to manage this ballclub. That's my only concern. What am I going to do next year? That's something my wife or baseball writers want to know about. Life is full of challenges. You never know what's going to come up. I don't worry about what happened yesterday so much or what's going to happen six months from now.
MLB.com: Who taught you to look at things one day at a time?
Johnson: In this business, you don't rest on your laurels. It's how I function today. You have to earn it every day -- your respect and your trust. It's a part of life. What happened last year is over. The year before is way over. As far as my position as manager and managing people, I draw on things that happened in the past from experience. All I'm here to do is look at the problems, solve them, move on. I don't think you could be good at that if you look too far ahead or look behind. It's simple logic to me.
MLB.com: I know you don't like to look ahead, but what kind of manager do you want for this club next year?
Johnson: There are a lot qualified guys around this coaching staff. I'm a firm believer in continuity within the system. Hopefully it will be one of the guys here.
There you go again, you are trying to project what's going on in the future. I'm not going to have any control over that. It's going to be somebody else's responsibility. Ask them. It's way premature. You are trying to run me out of here today.
MLB.com: No, I'm not. Since you said it, could you change your mind in terms of managing in 2014?
Johnson: Nothing is cut in stone. We have a mutual agreement here. Again, it's could of, would of. I don't go there. … I didn't plan on being in uniform a couple of springs ago, but it was a good challenge and I liked it. It wasn't something I was going after. So when you ask me what I'm going to do a year from now, it ridiculous. Life doesn't work that way. There will be a challenge next year. I have been working on a couple of things in my hometown -- Florida Collegian Summer League, Urban Youth Academy. I would like to see it get bigger. I would like to do something for the inner city in Orlando. I've been working on that for three years or more. Something will come up. I have an opened mind. I'm sure there will be something that will be challenging.
One thing I haven't done in my discussions with my wife is Australia. I would be interested in doing something. I know the country is beautiful.
MLB.com: You will have Stephen Strasburg for a full season. How great is it not to have limitations on him?
Johnson: I think it's more gratifying for Strasburg. He just wants to be one of the boys. He doesn't want any limitations on him. He wants to be here from the beginning to the end. He hasn't really had that in his career. I think he is looking forward to it. I think he is more relaxed coming into this year.
MLB.com: In what way?
Johnson: He burst onto the scene with high expectations. He was only here part time and then the injury, rehab, then limitations. This is the first year, he has a chance to be normal, and that's what he likes. When he came back in 2011, he wanted to be treated like one of the guys. He is driven like a lot of guys here. The fact that he doesn't have anything mentally weighing on him, it's going to be a great relief to him and us.
MLB.com: The rest of your pitching staff is great, too.
Johnson: I like them all. [General manager] Mike Rizzo and the rest of the organization have done a great job in getting us to this point. It's obvious how we felt about the club during the Trade Deadline last year. We didn't do anything. So that speaks volumes about what I think and what Rizzo thinks about the talent level here. I think that is enough said about it.
MLB.com: Any regrets in your career?
Johnson: I have no regrets. As a player, I probably sometimes listened to the wrong people when it came to giving me help on the kind of player that I was or could have been. Every young player is always looking to be better. But any decisions I've made as far as managing, I never went against my decisions, because I generally had a plan on why I did what and why. I looked at all the options. Hindsight is going to be a lot smarter than me. But if I look at all the options and pick what I think is the best, I go with it. Never look back. Everybody else can look back, but I don't pay any attention to it.
MLB.com: Do you think you've had a Hall of Fame career?
Johnson: I don't think about stuff like that. I don't think about personal awards. I'm not a person that is ego fed a lot. I probably have a more humble approach on myself. It keeps me where I want to be in life. Whatever I've done in the past may help somebody else.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.