It’s Hard Not to Love Red-Assed Davey Johnson and the Nationals

Last night was another one of those nights. Another Bryce Harper rope off the wall. Another Nationals home victory.

Right now the Washington Nationals represent everything that is energy-infusing and exciting in the game of baseball. Everyone is quick to talk about Harper or Stephen Strasburg, myself included. But I think one of the coolest aspects of this roster is who it’s being led by; their R. Lee Ermey style manager Davey Johnson (tell me he doesn’t look like Gunnery Sergeant Hartman down in the dugout some nights).

This is the tough son of a bitch who won 108 games and a ring with those 1986 Mets. Spry enough to fight (and drink with) a few of those hazy-eyed Metropolitans back then, he’s back from the dead for one more run at the Holy Grail. And therein lies one aspect that I love so much about baseball–Johnson managed Darryl Strawberry and Doc Gooden–and now he’s overseeing the precious roost of prospects that the Nationals have compiled. Two completely different eras with eras in between, and Davey Johnson probably still has the same wad of Beech-nut tobacco in his cheek from that summer in ’86.

Just above the Parris Island drill instructor who moonlights as the club’s manager is general manager Mike Rizzo. He’s part rich uncle, part wise guy. He’s just the kind of Italian your mother always warned you about. He’s also the architect of the roster that has collected the best young kitty of talent in the big leagues. He has the players’ backs. And he’ll forever be a hero because he is the guy who brought Strasburg and Harper to the nation’s capital.

The Roster doesn’t end with the big two. How did we all miss this much young forged talent before the season started? No one should be surprised at the club’s 23-14 record (best in the NL East) when you look at the wonderful mix of veteran and young-stud that litters the roster up and down the organization.

I know Wilson Ramos got hurt this past week and will miss the entire season. But even after Ramos, Harper, and Strasburg, the cabinet features a collection nice young names like Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmerman, Drew Storen, Henry Rodriguez, Ian Desmond, and soon to be ‘next one’ Anthony Rendon. I even still think there’s hope for Danny Espinosa. The Nationals are primed to make this their league over the next few seasons. Rostering veterans like Ryan Zimmerman, Rick Ankiel, Mike Morse, Tyler Clippard, Brad Lidge and Adam LaRoche adds a really nice mix as well.

They play the game the way it should be played. Reflective of their manager’s temperament, they grind out ugly win after ugly win with pitching, defense, and timely big hits in crucial spots. Dominant at home while taking every other game on the road. That’s how a winner is built.

There’s a lot of directions we could go from here. President’s races at the park. The best two young players in the game today. Based in a great city. The Nationals are young. They’re exciting. Finally a fresh face in the National League East. They’re about to begin a decade of dominance a few years before anyone ever predicted–which is how every true great run starts to begin with.

But we digress by going back to the girl who brought us to the dance.

Their manager is a hardened old baseball man who would win any era and these guys are simply playing their ass off for him. In sports nowadays, you just don’t see ballplayers motivated in such a way anymore. This is like Jack McKeon’s last run; if you packed McKeon’s cigars full of cow chips. Davey Johnson is coming downstairs, and he’s pissed off folks. He might be 85, but he’s still here to kick your ass and drink your Johnny Walker.

And back to Harper: isn’t he the type of kid you could see taking a curtain call after every home run? I hope he decides to do it. In fact, I hope the Nationals never lose again.