Thom Loverro: Johnson manages to leave mark on All-Star Game

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Stephen Strasburg will be on his first All-Star team Tuesday, as will Bryce Harper. It will be Gio Gonzalez's second, his first coming last year for the American League. Ian Desmond will have to celebrate his first All-Star selection at home, nursing a sore oblique.

There will likely be more for all these Washington Nationals, but they still have a way to go to catch their manager, Davey Johnson, who was named to four All-Star teams during his 13-year playing career -- three AL and one NL.

But for Johnson, the All-Star moment that means the most to him came in 1987, when he was the NL manager in the 58th All-Star Game in Oakland, Calif., a memorable 13-inning pitching duel that the NL won 2-0 on a two-run triple by Montreal Expos outfielder Tim Raines.

For Johnson, who led the New York Mets to the 1986 World Series title, it was his only chance to manage in the Midsummer Classic. With his Nationals in first place in the NL East at the All-Star break, he'd like another shot at it.

"It was more enjoyable for me as a manager because that meant you had won the pennant the year before," Johnson said. "It was a point of pride to win back then, and I tried to pull out all the stops to win. But you also had the obligation of trying to get everyone in."

That struggle for managers eventually took over the game, resulting in the 11-inning tie debacle in 2002 at Miller Field that led to the change to award home-field advantage in the World Series to the league that won the All-Star Game. Johnson said the added weight for the exhibition contest has impacted the game.

Managing may have meant more to Johnson, but his appearance on four All-Star Game rosters (1968, 1969, 1970 and 1973) may be more impressive because he played the game when the giants of baseball were featured.

"I had to be better than the guy who usually led the league in hitting, Rod Carew, to make it," he said.

Willie Mays was the MVP in the 1968 game. Johnson didn't play in the 1969 game at RFK Stadium, but in 1970 he came to the plate five times with one hit in the memorable 12-inning game that ended when Pete Rose bowled over Ray Fosse at home plate in a 5-4 NL victory.

It was the eighth straight loss for the AL, but Johnson finally got on the winning side in 1973 when he played for the Atlanta Braves and was on the NL squad.

"You want to be as good as you can be, and you want to be better than the other guys playing your position, too," Johnson said. "It was a great honor."

Examiner columnist Thom Loverro is the co-host of "The Sports Fix" from noon to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on ESPN980 and espn980.com. Contact him at tloverro@washingtonexaminer.com.

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Thom Loverro

Sports columnist
The Washington Examiner