70th birthday: Davey Johnsonby Chris Jaffe
January 30, 2013
Today, one of baseball’s best managers has a birthday—Davey Johnson of the Nationals. In fact, he’s not only one of the best—he’s also the oldest. Today Davey Johnson turns 70.
That seems surprising to me; the image in mind of Johnson is quite a bit younger. I always think of him as Mets manager in the 1986 World Series. But that was over a quarter-century ago. Sure he was middle-aged then, but that makes him older now.
Johnson might seem younger because he was out of the public eye for so long. He managed four franchises from the mid-1980s until 2000, when he was in his 40s and 50s. He was 57 when the Dodgers sacked him and while that isn’t very young it also isn’t terribly old for a manager. Until the Nationals came calling, Johnson hadn’t managed since then.
In fact, Johnson is barely a decade younger than his former manager Earl Weaver. That boggles the mind. Weaver’s Hall of Fame dugout career ended around the same time that Johnson’s lengthy career as skipper began. They seem like creatures from a different age. But Weaver just passed away at age 82, only a dozen years older than Johnson. Though Johnson played for him in Baltimore, Weaver was a young manager—just 38 when he began—and Johnson was a veteran player.
Jim Leyland has always looked old, even when he was in his 40s, but he’s actually a tick younger than Johnson. Tony LaRussa managed forever, but he’s a few years junior to Johnson.
Johnson is a little younger than Bobby Cox, and Joe Torre, but then again those guys retired a few years ago. Johnson is actually older than Cox was when he filled out his final lineup card. On Opening Day 2013, Johnson will be almost the exact same age Torre was in his final game—actually, a tad older.
A half-century ago the Yankees fired Casey Stengel after the 1960 World Series, saying he’d become too old to do the job. You know how old the popular image of Stengel is? Stengel was 70 years and three months old when the Yankees fired him—the same age Johnson is now.
It can be exhausting managing a team. It’s an every-day job, with lots of pressure, which requires considerable focus for each three-hour game, and forces tons of travel. It can wear on someone, and many in their 70s wouldn’t have the wherewithal to deal with it.
Some men have managed in their 70s. Stengel did with the Mets, but that was a complete disaster. Felipe Alou managed the Giants at age 70 but he retired at age 71.
Connie Mack famously lasted until he was 87. That’s a weird case, though. He also owned the team and by the end was more caretaker than manager. Still, at age 70 Mack was still the skipper and the A’s had a nice winning season. (It proved to be their last for a while as Mack had to sell off talent in the hostile economic environment of the Great Depression.)
The outstanding success story for a geriatric manager is Jack McKeon. He didn’t manage at age 70, but shortly after then became Marlins manager, and at age 72 won a world title. He managed a little longer before retiring—and then made the very unexpected return to the dugout in 2011 on an interim basis at age 80.
Still, that’s it. Those are all the people who managed in the majors in their 70s. Johnson could do a good job this year, but you shouldn’t expect him to last too much longer.
Regardless, he’s still on the job and still doing well—and he’s still doing it 70 years after his birth.
Aside from that, many other baseball events today celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is something occurring X-thousand days ago). Here they are, with the better items in bold if you’d prefer to skim.
1,000 days since 47-year-old Jamie Moyer, age be damned, records his best Game Score ever: 88. His line: 9 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, and 5 K. Moyer becomes the oldest player to pitch a complete game shutout.
1,000 days since Minnesota suffers its first home rainout since 1980. Welcome to Target Field.
1,000 days since Starlin Castro’s big league debut. The 20-year-old hits a three-run homer in his first at-bat and later gets a bases-loaded triple. Six RBIs is a debut game record.
5,000 days since Tom Glavine suffers his worst Game Score ever: -1. His line: 2.2 IP, 11 H, 9 R, 9 ER, 3 BB, and 2 K.
6,000 days since David Wells wins his 100th game. He’s 100-87 at this point in his career.
10,000 days since Delmon Young is born.
20,000 days since Ted Williams becomes the 10th player with 1,000 extra base hits.
25,000 days since Bucky Walters, one of the best hitting pitchers of his day, has the only four-hit game of his pitching career. He actually had a few other four-hit games in the majors, but they happened during his original incarnation as an infielder. (Hey, I said he was one of the best hitting pitchers of his day.)
25,000 days since Graig Nettles is born.
30,000 days since baseball lords cancel the sacrifice fly rule. It will return. Oh, and they also decree that balls that bounce into the stands will be doubles, not homers as had previously been the case.
1859 Tony Mullane is born. He’ll win over 280 games and would’ve won 300 had he not sat out a season.
1884 Tony Mullane, who had already violated baseball’s reserve clause once this off-season, does it a second time, signing with the major league club in Toledo.
1891 In the American Association (about to begin its last season as a major league), the Boston club purchases talented second baseman Cupid Childs from Syracuse for $2,000.
1917 Phillies star pitcher Pete Alexander says he’ll retire from the majors and play semipro ball if his salary demands aren’t met.
1917 Mickey Harris is born. After fizzling as a starting pitcher, he’ll become a reliever, leading the 1950 AL in games pitched (53), games finished (43), and saves (15).
1919 The Reds hire Pat Moran as their manager. He previously led the Phillies to their first pennant in 1915, and in 1919 will guide the Reds to their first NL pennant.
1919 Major League Baseball holds a hearing on whether star first baseman Hal Chase ever threw games. Chase comes with three lawyers, a clerk and a stenographer. His main accuser, Christy Mathewson, is in France and can’t attend.
1922 Billy Rhines, 1890s pitcher, dies at age 52. He twice led the league in ERA, in 1890 as a rookie (while winning 28 games) and in 1896. However, due to arm issues the rest of his career was a disappointment.
1923 The Red Sox trade Herb Pennock to the Yankees for three players and a giant bag of cash.
1923 Walt Dropo is born. He’ll be a strong hitter for the Red Sox in the early 1950s.
1925 Brooks Lawrence is born. The pitcher will become one of the first black players for the Cardinals and Reds. He wins 35 games in 1956-57 win Cincinnati but then rapidly falls back.
1926 The Rules Committee agrees to give pitchers access to a rosin bag on the mound. (The AL will initially balk, but agree to it in late April).
1936 The Boston Braves get a new nickname: the Bees. It doesn’t take.
1930 Sandy Amoros is born. He made one of the greatest catches in World Series history, helping give the Dodgers their first world title in 1955.
1931 Charlie Neal is born. The Dodgers middle infielder will be an All-Star in 1959 and 1960, leading the league in triples and sacrifice hits in 1959.
1938 Pete Palmer, legendary sabermetric godfather, is born.
1948 Herb Pennock dies of a heart attack at age 53.
1953 The Giants sign free agent Ruben Gomez.
1953 Peter J. McGovern becomes the first full-time president of Little League.
1958 Ford Frick decides that players and coaches, not fans, will decide who will play in the All-Star Game.
1959 The Reds trade Smoky Burgess, Harvey Haddix and Don Hoak to the Pirates for Frank Thomas and three other players no one’s ever heard of (Whammy Douglas, Jim Pendleton, and John Powers). Without bothering to check, I safely assume the Pirates got the better of this deal.
1961 Aaron Ward dies at age 64. The infielder played over 1,000 games, mostly with the Yankees, and led the 1920 AL in strikeouts, with 84.
1964 The U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Monopolies begins hearings on baseball.
1967 The Yankees announce that Yankee Stadium will receive a $1.5 million facelift.
1977 Edward W. Stack becomes Hall of Fame president, replacing the retiring Paul Kerr.
1978 Bowie Kuhn voids Charles O. Finley’s deal to send star A’s pitcher Vida Blue to the Reds for $1.75 million and a minor leaguer. As a result, Kuhn creates a rule stating that players aren’t to be sold for more than $400,000.
1982 Jorge Cantu, well-traveled infielder, is born.
1984 Jeremy Hermida, outfielder, is born.
1987 The Cubs trade aging third baseman Ron Cey to the A’s, where he’ll end his career.
1996 Ozzie Smith donates $1 million to his alma mater, California Poly-San Luis Obispo for a new athletic complex, which will (naturally) be named Ozzie Smith Stadium.
1996 The Phillies sign free agent catcher Benito Santiago.
1997 Duane Josephson dies at age 54. Despite playing in fewer than 500 games, the catcher represented the White Sox in the 1968 All-Star game.
2002 The Red Sox sign free agent John Valentin for the final season of his career.
2002 The Pirates sign free agent shortstop Pokey Reese.
2007 Max Lanier dies at age 91. He was a star pitcher for the World War II Cardinals. He made two All-Star teams and led the 1944 NL in ERA+.
2007 Seattle signs free agent pitcher Jeff Weaver.
History instructor by day, statnerd by night, Chris Jaffe leads one of the most exciting double lives imaginable; with the exception of every other double life possible to imagine. Despite his lack of comic-book-hero-worthiness, Chris enjoys farting around with this stuff. His new book, Evaluating Baseball's Managers is available for order. Chris welcomes responses to his articles via e-mail. Oh, and now he's on twitter.