For all the Orioles fans who have been pining for Davey Johnson since he walked away from their last playoff team, the prospect of him taking over the surging Washington Nationals will probably evoke some mixed emotions.
The mere mention of Johnson's name has been an emotional lightning rod in Baltimore throughout the Orioles' 13½ years in the wilderness, and now — according to most media accounts — he is about to move into the dugout next door. If you're looking for a strange baseball dynamic, you don't have to look much further than Davey returning to manage the other team on the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network after Jim Riggleman told the Nats to take that job and shove it.
Of course, everything about this situation is strange. When was the last time you heard about a veteran baseball manager delivering an extend-me-or-else ultimatum and then abruptly resigning with his team on a major roll?
The answer, ironically enough, was 1997, when Johnson delivered a similar ultimatum to Orioles owner Peter Angelos after leading the O's on a wire-to-wire run that ended in the American League Championship Series and garnered him the AL Manager of the Year Award.
The situations are far from identical, but you've got to admit that there are some interesting parallels.
Riggleman badly overplayed his hand. He had been lobbying for the Nationals to pick up his contract option for next season and obviously felt his team was peaking and that he would never have that kind of leverage again. He made his play and general manager Mike Rizzo called his bluff, and here we are, getting ready to witness the return of the Davey Johnson to a stadium near you.
That's a beautiful thing for those of us who make a living on intriguing storylines and outsized personalities, but I'm not sure Johnson is the right fit for the Nationals, and I'm fairly certain the Nationals are not the right fit for Johnson.
The guy is a great game manager who led the 1986 New York Mets to the world championship (with a little help from Bill Buckner) and went to the ALCS in both of his seasons managing the Orioles. He is not, however, a miracle worker who is going to wave a magic wand and turn this edition of the Nationals into a postseason contender.
In fact, there's a pretty good chance that the Nats are going to come right back down to earth in the next week or so — a likelihood that Riggleman almost certainly took into account when he made the reckless gambit that probably cost him his last chance to manage in the major leagues.
Can't blame him for trying to take advantage of what figured to be a fleeting opportunity, but you only go all in when the reward far outweighs the risk. Riggleman risked more than half of this year's salary to guarantee a 2012 contract that he might have gotten anyway. He'll probably tell you that it wasn't about the money, but if it really wasn't, then his actions make even less sense.
Johnson doesn't need the money, and he probably doesn't need the aggravation, but this kind of challenge is hard to pass up, especially for a 68-year-old guy who has been in the eye of the hurricane and likes it there.
Will he be able to bring the same energy to the job that he did in his previous managerial incarnations? That would be a fairer question if the Florida Marlins hadn't just hired 80-year-old Jack McKeon to take over that struggling team for the rest of the season. Compared to McKeon, Johnson might as well be wearing short pants.
The Nationals are playing very well right now and there is some logic to bringing in a manager with a strong track record and a big reputation to reinforce the rising self-esteem of a developing team. We'll just have to wait and see how the players respond to the new reality that comes out of this week of turmoil.
One thing is certain: If Johnson can keep a marginal Nats team moving the right direction, it will reinforce the long-held notion among a lot of disaffected Orioles fans that he never should have left the region in the first place.
Listen to Peter Schmuck on "The Week in Review" every Friday at noon on WBAL (1090 AM).