WASHINGTON, November 16, 2012 — Who wants to read about baseball in November? We should be writing, reading, and talking football and the Washington Redskins.
So who does? you ask (or, at least, I did). The answer is: any good Washington baseball fan, that’s who. Especially when the Washington ball club, which clinched the Division championship for the season, has further reason to celebrate.
Especially when a fan has opportunity to read about one of the Nationals players garnering the Golden Glove trophy, as did first baseman Adam LaRoche.
Especially when a 20-year-old Nationals outfielder decisively captures the coveted Rookie of the Year honors, as did Bryce Harper.
And then a couple of days later, when the Nationals fan gets a chance to read about manager Davey Johnson capturing the Manager of the Year award by the Sports Writers of America.
Washington fans, especially those with a longstanding knowledge and association with the club, can only shake their heads and say, “And this is a Washington team!” It’s a sudden embarrassment of riches for a team that is suddenly “nouveau riche.”
Johnson First for Nationals Since 2005
Davey Johnson is not the first Washington ballclub manager to earn the prestigious Manager of the Year title. He is, however, the first to do so since baseball’s return to the capital city in 2005.
And since Washington was devoid of a team for 33 years, we have to go back to 1969, to find the last previous manager who gained this title. It was Ted Williams. Here we always have to pause to allow some reader or listener to pipe up, “Ted Williams? He was Boston all the way!”
Yes, as a player he was, but he was also manager of the Washington Senators in their two final years of play. In 1969, his first full year at the helm, Williams received the Manager of the Year award just for getting the perennial losing ball club into the upper division with a winning record of 86-76 for the season.
(And if you must talk football: that same year the pilot of the Redskins was none other than the legendary Vince Lombardi. Talk about an embarrassment of riches.)
This 2012 season, Davey Johnson took a team expected to have “a pretty good season” on their way to “building” for the next few seasons down the road. But Davey helped galvanize this team ahead of their time.
It reminds me of that great pickup line (which I’m giving away here because I’m a happily married man and don’t need it anymore) in which the guy says to the lovely ingénue, “You get prettier every day, and today you look like next Tuesday.”
The Nationals were getting better every season, and soon they would, no doubt, be playing top-notch baseball. And then, suddenly, amazingly, miraculously, the team began racking up wins, producing not only a winning season, and post season, but an actual win of a division title.
Personally, I think it is more than significant that a Washington manager should win this prestigious Manager of the Year title this year, 2012.
Because this season is exactly 100 years since the advent of the most important Washington baseball manager of all time: the man who could well be called the most significant and influential man for Washington baseball ever.
Player, Manager, Hall of Famer, Owner
He was not a player. For Washington, that is. He was, however, a player in the finest tradition for the Chicago Colts. He, in fact, pitched 20 or more wins in seven straight seasons. This earned him a place in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
As a young pitcher, he was given the sobriquet, “the Old Fox.” This was because his wins stemmed not only from a good arm, but also from his crafty way of knowing a hitter and his ability to finesse a batter back into the dugout.
We speak of Clark Griffith.
Griffith would come to Capital Town as manager in 1912. He would soon become major owner of the ball club in 1920, and Washington’s refurbished ballpark would be soon come to be renamed Griffith Stadium in his honor.
When Griffith took the helm, a hundred years ago this year, the Washington club was known as a gang of bottom berthers. After he moved in, however, Washington would not end up at the bottom of the pile for another 33 seasons.
Mr. Griffith was not new to the capital city. He periodically came to D. C. as a member of the Chicago club to pitch against the great Walter Johnson.
It was Griffith, in fact, who on August 24, 1884, pitched a ball from a window of the Washington Monument which was caught, some say, by teammate Billy “Pops” Scrivner.
He earned a favorable reputation as manager of the Chicago White Sox and the New York Highlanders, predecessors of the Yankees.
As manager of the Senators, his wiliness continued. He once called a team member into his office and told him he was being traded. “Who for?” the player demanded. “Nobody,” Griffith answered, adding, “and it’s an even trade.”
That may not be Davey Johnson’s style, and nobody can now question Johnson’s style. After all, just look at the results.
How fitting and proper, then, that exactly a century after the arrival of the great manager-owner Clark Calvin Griffith, Washington baseball fans should see its current manager honored as manager of the year. Congratulations, David Allen “Davey” Johnson.
“It was a very good year.”
Vance Garnett’s writings have appeared in major newspapers and magazines. They have won the praise of such luminaries as Paul Harvey, William Safire, and Shirley Povich. Vance has shared his life experiences and knowledge of D.C. with the Washington Historical Society, the Kiwanis clubs of the Washington area, and on WAMU’s “Kojo Nnamdi Show.”
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