And before the Orioles faced off with the Nationals in the first game of the series Wednesday, Johnson -- who has long been a key figure in Orioles history as a player and manager -- took the time to wax nostalgic about his time in Baltimore.
“I always love coming to Baltimore,” said Johnson, who previously said this would be his final season as Nationals manager. “My kids were born here. I learned to play baseball here with the likes of Brooks Robinson and Boog Powell, a guy named Frank Robinson, and played under Earl Weaver.”
Before last season’s playoff run, Johnson managed the last Orioles teams to reach the playoffs. In 1997, the Orioles went 98-64 and advanced to the American League Championship Series before losing to the Cleveland Indians in six games. Despite winning the 1997 American League Manager of the Year award, he left after that season because of a contractual dispute with ownership.
“In the playoffs, we had a lot of things go against us,” Johnson said. “A check swing one time, a 12-year-old kid another. Other than that, I love coming to Baltimore, and I hope it isn’t my last time.”
The 70-year-old spent his playing days under the legendary Weaver and attempted to emulate the arguing tactics he saw, from yelling at rookies or kicking dirt on the umpires.
“I tried to use all the things I learned from him and I remember getting kicked out of my first game real early,” Johnson said. “That Earl Weaver stuff didn’t work over here in the National League.”
Johnson played second base for the Orioles from 1965 to 1972 and played in four World Series, winning two. He was a three-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glove winner. In eight years with the club, he hit .259 with 61 home runs and 391 RBIs.
Johnson retired in 1978 after 13 major league seasons in which he also played for the Atlanta Braves, Philadelphia Phillies and Chicago Cubs. He was a career .261 hitter with 136 home runs and 609 RBIs.
In 1986, Johnson managed the New York Mets to a World Series victory over the Boston Red Sox, his only championship through 16 years. He also managed the Cincinnati Reds and Los Angeles Dodgers, in addition to the Mets, Orioles and Nationals, and his teams won at least 98 games five times.
Johnson’s history in Baltimore spans from Memorial Stadium to Camden Yards, and with the resurgence of both the Orioles and the Nationals, he doesn’t want it to end Thursday.
“I hope it’s not,” Johnson said. “Hope we come back here and beat the pants off them in the playoffs.”