Nationals manager Davey Johnson has made just one trip to Philadelphia with his brand-new team and already his office in the visitors clubhouse at the Bank was full of baseball luminaries kicking back and talking shop.
Bob Boone, the all-time great catcher for the Phillies and current assistant general manager for the Nats, was sitting there with another old teammate, Mike Schmidt.
Shoot, if the Phillies had known Johnson was going to be around, they could have asked him to take part in the pregame festivities for alumni weekend.
But no one knew Johnson would be back running a ballclub when the season started. In fact, Johnson, at age 68, didnt think hed ever manage again. Oh sure, there were rumors here and there, but there wasnt really much more Johnson could do as a big league skipper. After all, he won the World Series with the Mets in 1986 and then took the Mets, Reds and Orioles to the postseason. Perhaps if hed been given more than two seasons with the Dodgers before being fired at the end of the 2000 season, he would have added another club to the list.
Nevertheless, when Jim Riggleman abruptly quit as Nats manager halfway through the season, Johnson was a surprise choice to take over the club. And even though he supplanted Charlie Manuel as second-oldest manager in the NL East (Jack McKeon has them all beat), Johnson says hell stick around as long as he is wanted.
Nevertheless, after Johnson held court with Schmidt and Boone, he made sure the Hall of Fame third baseman met his All-Star in the hot corner, Ryan Zimmerman.
I yelled at Zim and said, Ryan, come on back here, Johnson said. Mike said a few words to him and shook his hand. He told him, Carry on the tradition.
Of course Johnson was no slouch in the field, either. He was a four-time All-Star at second base with the Orioles and Braves before becoming the first big-name gaijin in Japan for the Yomiuri Giants. In 1976, Johnson crossed paths with a new American player with the Yakult Swallows named Charlie Manuel.
Davey was the first American to go Japan and get big money, Manuel said, happy to follow in his footsteps.
Manuel continued to play in Japan until 1981, but Johnson returned to the United States where he had a deal waiting with the Phillies.
When I came back from Japan, I thought the Phillies were the best club in baseball, Johnson remembered. I remember going up to Pope general manager Paul Owens and saying, I want to play for you guys. He gave me a contract and I told him I was worth twice that much, but I took it. But, I said, If I make the club will you give me the other amount, and he said, Sure.
I made the club and we had a great bench, a great ballclub and I really enjoyed my couple of years here.
In 1977, often regarded as the best single-season Phillies team ever, Johnson split time at first base with Richie Hebner on a team that set the franchise record with 101 wins. Johnson batted .321 with eight homers and a .408 on-base percentage in 78 games that season.
However, the 1977 season and NLCS against the Dodgers ended up being known more for Black Friday and the Phillies 3-1 series defeat than the 101-win regular season.
Johnson stuck around as a bat off the bench in 1978 where he made history as the first player to hit two pinch-hit grand slams in one season. After a trade to the Cubs and a .232 batting average at age 35, Johnson retired as a player and started his managerial career with the Triple A Miami Amigos.
Thirty-two years later hes still at it.
With the dog days of August tightening its grip on the baseball season, there was plenty of time to talk baseball with the skippers of the Nationals and Phillies before Saturdays game. Johnson told a story about a time in Japan when his Giants took on Manuels team and fellow gaijin, Clyde Wright told Manuel that he was only going to see fastballs when he got to bat.
Manuel ended up taking the first two, fouled off a third and then popped out. When asked why he didnt knock the ball into the stratosphere, Johnson said Manuel didnt think the pitches were fast enough.
On the other side of the diamond, Manuel discussed a few baseball records that he didnt think would be broken. For instance, Joe DiMaggios 56-game hitting streak is safe, according to Manuel. So too are Pete Roses 4,256 hits.
However, when asked if Johnny Vander Meers record two consecutive no-hitters could ever be equaled, Manuel did not hesitate to answer.
Nationals wunderkind righthander Stephen Strasburg is on the way back.
That one could be got, Manuel said. I see Strasburg, hes very capable of throwing back-to-back no-hitters. When I saw the type of the stuff that he has, and pitchers that dominate the game like he does, guys like Pedro Martinez in their heyday, they could do that. Because not only could they pitch, they could overpower you.
Strasburg completed his second rehab outing on Friday night for Single A Potomac where he needed just 33 pitches to get through three innings. Though hes on the mend from Tommy John surgery, Strasburg routinely threw his fastball 99-mph, his changeup near 90-mph, as well as his knee-buckling curve.
Strasburg will pitch again on Wednesday, likely for Nats farm team Hagerstown.
E-mail John R. Finger at firstname.lastname@example.org