The love of the game
Johnson's point should not be misunderstood. He thinks it is in the Nationals' best interest for him to stay. He still loves coming to the park every day at 11:30 a.m. He says he still has the same drive as ever.
If Johnson knew the Nationals would be here, three games under .500 in mid-August, he still would have returned for one last season. He loves baseball. He likes management, appreciates the owners and finds joy in watching his players unlock their talent.
"I guess I am showing my age," Johnson said. "Because I even like the umpires."
"He's been the same exact person," third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. "When you've been in the game as long as Davey has and get to the age that he is, I really don't think you change too much for anyone. You are who you are."
Johnson's handle on some corners of the clubhouse has wavered. Many players have chafed at Johnson's propensity to share sensitive information about their injuries with the media. Privately, they have questioned tactical decisions, such as bullpen usage. One player declined to comment for this story, not wanting to say anything inflammatory.
But support still seems to outweigh resentment. Shortstop Ian Desmond called his time playing for Johnson "a pleasure." As some - inside and outside the clubhouse - insist Johnson demand more discipline, the manager allows his players a wide berth.
Johnson has called one team meeting all season, and it lasted five minutes; players said the term "meeting" was too formal. Players take infield and outfield practice on their own in the manner they choose. On weekends, batting practice on the field is optional. The Nationals respect him for it.
"He understands. He played," Werth said. "He knows everyone is going to do what they need specifically to be ready to play. He believes that's going to happen, and he believes in his players. It's really refreshing."
Before Johnson's first year in Baltimore back in the mid-1990s, Orioles management floated the idea of shrinking the physical space of the clubhouse to eliminate cliques. "That don't mean" anything, Johnson told them.
"The clubhouse, to me, that's their home," he said. "They need to feel very comfortable there. They don't need to feel in any way intimidated by coaches or managers.
"Everybody deals with adversity differently," Johnson added. "I keep it inside. Of all the traits I have, some would say it's a sensible trait, and others would say it's a bad trait. Get it out. Yell and scream and embarrass . . .somebody. But I've never seen the positive side of it."
The losses have worn on him, though none stung as much as the firing of his friend and hitting coach Rick Eckstein. "That weighs more heavily on me than if it was me that was fired," Johnson said.
He wakes up in the middle of the night thinking about what he could have done differently or what he could change now. "Maybe I was at fault saying, 'World Series or bust,' " Johnson said. But that was how he felt back in December.
By February, though, he anticipated some of the Nationals' problems. In December, he still thought they were going re-sign Tom Gorzelanny or Sean Burnett to give left-handed balance to the bullpen. He thought they would add another veteran to the bench. They did not, and woeful production from the bench and a mismatched bullpen contributed to the Nationals' underachievement.
Johnson shared his opinion with general manager Mike Rizzo, he said, but he still blames himself for not making the roster work.
"To see guys struggle and not do the things [they are capable of], I always feel like it's my fault," Johnson said.