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Davey Johnson becomes Nationals manager

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Associated Press
6/26/2011 2:34:19 PM
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CHICAGO -- General manager Mike Rizzo had to move quickly. He needed a seasoned and successful manager to run the Washington Nationals, a promising team shocked by the abrupt resignation of Jim Riggleman.

He didn't have to look far.

Davey Johnson, who had been advising Rizzo since 2009, was the logical choice since he was already familiar with the team's operations, the players and Rizzo himself.

The 68-year-old Johnson, who led the New York Mets to the 1986 World Series title and had managed four big league teams, is returning to the dugout. The official announcement came Sunday.

Johnson will run the Nationals for the first time Monday when they start an interleague series against the Los Angeles Angels and stay on as manager through the rest of the season.

"Davey's a perfect fit for this job at this particular time," Rizzo said. "He's a guy with a track record that's beyond reproach. He knows the system, he knows the staff, he knows the major league club and he's a terrific baseball guy and a proved winning manager."

Johnson agreed to a three-year consulting contract that runs through 2013, and will help select Washington's next manager. It could be him, of course.

"It's going to be a mutual organization decision," Rizzo said. "Davey's going to do what's best for the organization and he and I will both have input in what's going on.

"This situation just emphasizes the type of team player he is. He's, in essence, dropping everything to get back in uniform to help us out."

Interim manager John McLaren ran the team for the third straight game Sunday and came away with a 2-1 victory over the Chicago White Sox to finish his short stint 2-1. Riggleman's former bench coach will be reassigned to scouting duties within the organization.

"The John McLaren era is over in Washington. Is three games an era?" McLaren said with a laugh.

Less than an hour before game time Sunday, a loud round of applause could be heard coming from the Nationals' clubhouse as Rizzo thanked McLaren for filling in during a time of turmoil.

"I appreciate that. It was kinda cool," McLaren said.

At the same meeting, Rizzo informed the team of Johnson's hiring -- not a well-kept secret over the last three days.

"It's an extremely positive reaction. They all know Davey, he's been in spring training, in uniform," Rizzo said. "They've interacted with him, they know his resume and just talking to him, the respect that he has in that room, even before he sets foot in there as manager, is second to none."

Johnson was not available for comment Sunday and would not be returning calls, a team spokesman said. He was scheduled to join the team later for the flight to Los Angeles.

Johnson managed the Mets, Dodgers, Reds and Orioles over 14 seasons and compiled a 1,148-888 record. Eleven of his teams finished first or second.

Even though he hasn't managed in the majors for 11 years, Johnson did skipper Team USA in the 2009 World Baseball Classic and 2008 Olympics. Two summers ago, he managed amateur players in a Florida collegiate league.

Rizzo said he talked with several other people about the job but did not formally interview them because Johnson was easily his first choice after Riggleman bolted.

"When we got the news, you automatically go into 'Plan B' mode and try to think outside the box," Rizzo said. "We had to make decisions rationally and clearly, but quickly. We were fortunate to have such a clear-cut and easy alternative right there."

Riggleman resigned abruptly Thursday after the Nationals beat Seattle, unhappy that Rizzo declined to have a conversation about picking up his option for 2012. The departure was stunning for its timing: Including Sunday's victory, the Nationals have won 13 of their last 15 games.

It was the second time in a week an NL East manager resigned and was replaced. Florida skipper Edwin Rodriguez quit last Sunday -- under much different circumstances with the Marlins struggling -- and was replaced by 80-year-old Jack McKeon.

Now, Johnson will return to a team that has played well lately and has a bright future with a young star in 18-year-old Bryce Harper, who is tearing up Class-A ball, and with 22-year-old right-hander Stephen Strasburg expected to recover from elbow surgery.

"It's perfect. He's a great manager and he's got a lot of history," Livan Hernandez, Sunday's winning pitcher, said of Johnson. "He wins the World Series in '86 with the Mets. We are going to have a different manager tomorrow. We are going to miss McLaren, too. ... We got to continue to play good."

Drew Storen, the Nationals' 23-year-old closer, said he was looking forward to working with Johnson.

"He's a great baseball man with a great track record. I'm not too familiar with him as a manager, but I just know he's a great baseball guy," Storen said. "I'm excited to see what he can do with us."

McLaren cited Johnson's passion for the game and wished him well.

"I know they've got great vision here. I know Davey Johnson is gonna do a great job here," McLaren said.

Before the game, McLaren met with Nationals players in groups to tell them about his future.

"I didn't want them to not hear it from me," McLaren said. "I feel bad about Jim Riggleman. It's a tough situation for everybody. He's a good friend. I wish it hadn't gone down like this, but it did and I think we'll move on."

Davey Johnson (Photo: Stephen Dunn /Getty Images)

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(Photo: Stephen Dunn /Getty Images)
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