VIERA, Fla. -- “World Series or bust.”
No, that’s not a George Steinbrenner quote from an old “Seinfield” episode. It’s a quote from the manager of the Washington Nationals, Davey Johnson.
He uttered it at the winter meetings two months ago. And now that spring training has arrived, it’s clear those are four words that are going to stick to the feet of the 2013 Nationals like a wad of gum.
But if that’s now their official mantra -- “World Series or bust” -- you won’t find Davey Johnson’s players running from it, even as their National League East rivals tack that snappy little slogan onto bulletin boards all over Florida.
“I like it,” said reliever Drew Storen. “That’s the thing I like about Davey. He just goes for it. And it shows you that for him, what matters is the clubhouse. What matters is this team. We all believe that. He just has that confidence. And he had that confidence in us last year. People get behind that. There isn’t one guy in that clubhouse who doesn’t think the same thing.”
There has always been a fearlessness to Davey Johnson that sets him apart from many of his fellow managers. And always has. There is also an amateur psychologist inside him who understands that managers of a team like this need to raise the bar and send certain messages to the troops about what’s possible -- and what’s expected.
Johnson did that a year ago by talking playoffs, right out loud. Now he’s sending a bigger, bolder message a year later. Heck, of course he is.
“That’s all it is,” Storen said of his manager’s ability to deliver those messages. “And that’s what really made us successful last year. We told people in spring training last year that we were going to compete and we were going to do what we did. And people kind of gave it the old, 'That’s nice.'
“But we believed it. And we weren’t just saying it to say it, because it was the right thing to say. We said it because we believed it. It’s not about saying somebody else is not good enough. It’s about us saying we ARE good enough.”
Not that this sort of talk doesn’t make the manager’s bosses uncomfortable. Clearly, it does. But they’ve learned that this is what makes Davey Johnson tick -- and what has made him great at his job for all these years.
“That’s typical Davey,” said GM Mike Rizzo. “He wouldn’t have said it if he didn’t think it and didn’t mean it.
“Now I have to temper my comments a little bit,” Rizzo continued. “I think we have a good team. I like where we’re at. And we feel really good about ourselves. But that’s Davey being Davey. And that’s fine.”
Fortunately, it’s fine with the people who play for him. And that, ultimately, is what matters most. Right?
“We’ve got all the pieces of the puzzle,” Storen said. “We’ve got guys with the right mindset. We’ve got guys with the right experience. And it’s going to be a lot of fun. I think we’re going to enjoy kind of having a target on our back this year.”
Well, they’d better. Because the manager didn’t slap that target on their backs in light No. 2 pencil. He splattered it all over them -- in indelible ink.