PAWTUCKET — If Ron Johnson had any doubts or reservations about his status among the baseball cognoscenti, a phone call from Dan Duquette quickly erased them.
It was a phone call that was straight to the point with Duquette taking a run at Johnson to gauge his level of interest in the managerial job with the Norfolk Tides. Sure, the two share a past, but what heightens the importance of this particular phone call is the timing of when it occured.
Duquette, new in his duties as the general manager of the Baltimore Orioles, reached out to Johnson shortly after he had been cut loose by the Red Sox last October. To hear a familiar voice on the other end – back in 2000, Duquette, then Boston’s G.M., hired Johnson to skipper the Single-A Sarasota club – confirmed what everyone who’s ever come in contact with the affable and easy-going Johnson suspected all along.
He would not be out of baseball too long.
“You want to think you have something to offer as a baseball person,” said Johnson, in town this week as the manager of the aforementioned Tides.
Returning to McCoy Stadium for the first time since 2009, when he capped off a five-year as the manager of the Pawtucket Red Sox, Johnson touched upon a number of issues prior to Norfolk downing his former club, 6-4, on Memorial Day. Once a manager, always a manager as Johnson explained how starting fresh with a new organization allowed him to return to what brings him the most joy – running a team.
“I think the last two years [Johnson spent the 2010 and 2011 seasons as Terry Francona’s first-base coach in Boston] have given me tremendous experiences to fall back on,” said Johnson, sitting behind the desk of the manager’s office inside the visiting clubhouse at McCoy.
“When you manage, it’s your relationship with people and how they buy into you so that you can get the most out of your players on a daily basis,” Johnson continued, “but to see the game played at the big-league level, it’s really helped me in coming back in terms of evaluating and developing.
“The last two years, there was some rough stuff that went on, but I think every time something like that happens, it always turns around down the road and something good comes out of it,” he said.
The idea of taking a year off and spending it at his Tennessee estate with his family was something that did not appeal to Johnson. To borrow from Aerosmith, he wanted “back in the saddle” as soon as the next opportunity came knocking. The 2012 campaign marks his 19th season as a minor-league manager, his eighth in Triple-A.
“I wanted to be in the game,” he deadpanned. “This is what I am. I’m a baseball guy and that’s what I want to do.”
Given his history with the man affectionately dubbed in Red Sox circles as “R.J,” nothing provided Beyeler with more satisfaction than seeing Johnson land on his feet following his exit from Boston. When Beyeler was in Double-A Portland and Johnson was based in Pawtucket, the two would often touch base, striking up a friendship that was apparent when the two men swapped lineup cards and shook hands at home plate Monday.
“To this day I ask him a lot of questions about dealing with players. He’s a great resource and such a good friend and I miss him being on our side,” was the sentiment Beyeler expressed. “We don’t work together like we did in the past, but he’s someone who I can pick up the phone and kick things off of all the time. He’s always been that way with me.
“Everybody was extremely happy that he was able to get something,” Beyeler continued. “You really find out who your friends are when you’re out there and you don’t have a job. It was nice to see him get with some good people.”
When you boil it right down, Johnson believes that not much separates the Red Sox and Orioles in terms of minor-league philosophy.
“My perception of [Baltimore manager] Buck Showalter was different when I was in the other dugout. Then I got a chance to be with him during spring training. He’s a working man’s coach,” Johnson said. “He checks in here and knows what’s going on with these guys.
“That type of hands-on approach reminds me of what was instrumental in the success we had over there with Boston, and I see a lot of those same things happening [with the O’s].”