|Photo by AP|
Johnson managed the Nationals to 98 wins and a N.L. East division title in his first full season with the team in 2012. They improved their record by 18 victories from the season before and jumped from third in the N.L. East to first.
This is Johnson’s second time winning a league manager of the year award, he took the honor in the American League with the Orioles in 1997. He is just the fifth manager in MLB history to win the award in both leagues and the first in Nationals history to win one at all.
After winning the award in 1997, Johnson left the Orioles because of a rift with the owner. On Tuesday after learning he had won the award once again, he joked about avoiding the same fate.
“If we didn’t win the division I thought I was going to get fired, and if I won this award I thought I was going to get fired,” he said. “Hopefully I can live through getting this award and manage the Nationals in 2013.”
Johnson originally joined the organization in June of 2006 as a consultant. He took over the Nats on June 17, 2011 after two managers resigned midseason, moving to the dugout from an advisor role. The Nationals finished 40-43 under Johnson in 2011 with an 80-81 record overall.
After watching the team closely for several years, and managing them for half a season, Johnson knew he had a talented roster heading into 2012.
“I was at spring training the one year before and I really had two spring trainings to get to know the whole organization. That was really critical for me,” he said.
“I really had a lot of confidence after my second spring training with the front office, with the ownership, with everybody. And my evaluation of talent after 2011, I think it was pretty correct.”
Johnson and the Nationals collectively reached another level this season, reaching the playoffs for the first time since the club moved to Washington. It was the first playoff appearance for the franchise since 1981 and just the second in the organization’s history.
“Guys really didn’t overachieve, they just played up to their potential. There’s still a higher ceiling there for a lot of the players. It was a fun year for me and with another year of experience it is going to set us up to be even stronger and better.”
A World Series winner as both a player and a manager, the Nationals are the fifth team Johnson has coached. He began with the New York Mets in 1984 before stints with the Reds, Orioles, and Dodgers. In 16 seasons as an MLB manager Johnson holds a 595-417 record overall (.588 winning percentage).
In 2012 Johnson had to manage through injuries to many key players. He lost Michael Morse, Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman, Drew Storen, Ian Desmond, Wilson Ramos, and Drew Storen all for significant amounts of time. Throw in a potential distraction involving Stephen Strasburg, a national story about him being shut down that lasted for months, and 2012 was not without adversity.
Johnson pointed to his veterans and organizational depth as two important factors in the team surviving as well as they did.
“The improved bench and the young guys stepping up, those were the keys,” he said.
“That’s a tribute to the organization that they could do that. The pitching held us in there so that we had a chance to beat anybody. Those guys had to contribute, they had to do things. And my bench was outstanding, my bench won a lot of ballgames.”
Johnson beat out Dusty Baker of the Reds and Bruce Bochy of the Giants for the award. Johnson received 23 first place votes and a total of 131 points in the Baseball Writers' Association of America's voting system.
Johnson becomes the third manager in franchise history to win manager of the year after Felipe Alou in 1994 and Buck Rodgers in 1987.
Before the 2012 season Johnson had all but guaranteed the Nationals would be a good team, telling CSNwashington that he should be fired if the team didn’t make the playoffs. When asked for a similar proclamation, the Nats skipper cited his plan to retire after 2013 as having nothing to lose.
“World Series or bust, it’s going to be my last year anyways,” he said.