Two “original” Washington Nationals announced retirements this week — Nick Johnson, the first baseman, and Brian Schneider, the catcher, were starters
I first saw Johnson play in 2002 when he was with the New York Yankees. It seemed like he went about 5 for 6 against the Baltimore Orioles* in the third game of that season. Looking up the box score, it turns out he only went 2 for 3, but he homered. I came away impressed. I had no expectation that 3 years later, I’d be watching him play for D.C. baseball team.
As the Nats first basemen, Johnson was quite good in 2005-2006 and even stayed healthy relative to the rest of his career. His on-base percentage was really high and his fielding was strong. I remember him hitting a 3-0 pitch off the mezzanine once, though I’m not sure what season it was anymore. It all went bad late in the 2006 season when he collided with Austin Kearns at Shea Stadium. The site of a trainer crossing his arms appears pretty early in a Google Images search for “nick johnson nats.” That was the beginning of the end for Johnson. MissChatter sent him flowers with a bunch bloggers names on it. Then the team wore high socks in Johnson’s honor (they should honor him all the time if you get my drift). Johnson finally returned in 2008, had a goofy haircut, no power left. He was traded late in 2009 after a decent season.
Johnson’s retirement got a bit of coverage because he was a sabermetrician’s dream while still being “old school.” Barry Svrluga, the original Nats beat writer for The Post has a great write-up on Johnson that you need to read.
Oh and then there is Flip Flop Fly Ball’s infographic on Johnson’s health.
Also remembering Johnson and Schneider too is Martin Niland over at D.C. Baseball History. Niland mentioned some stuff that I had forgotten about, so go read that too.
Schneider came to D.C. with a reputation for being a good catcher who could throw out runners. A Phillies baserunner took off for second on Opening Day 2005 and Schneider threw it away, I was rolling my eyes a little. Schneider would right the ship and be among the league leaders in throwing out runners. It seems like he overthrow second at the beginning of 2006 as well.
Schneider will always be a part of D.C. baseball lore because he got to catch the ceremonial first pitch from President George W. Bush at the 2005 Home Opener.
Schneider retired after playing for those Phillies after a few years with the Mets. Lastings Milledge was the “prize” the Nats got back from the Mets in a trade that also sent Ryan Church to New York in 2007.
Schneider was from Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley, so playing there was “going home” in a sense. Schneider’s autographed photo was hanging in an Italian restaurant that The Ombudsman waited tables in for a while. A friend of a friend mentioned this past Thanksgiving that she had baby-sat Schneider and he was very hyper.
Don Sutton used to call him “Snyder” during telecasts which was funny and annoying.
It is hard to believe, but we’re only 2 years away from a full decade of the Nats. Schneider and Johnson were the last original Nats playing the field; now only Livan Hernandez remains, provided somebody signs him for 2013. I’m looking forward to seeing them in 2 years when the Nats celebrate the 2005 team.
*Last time I gave the Orioles and Peter Angelos any money, decided to stop rewarding bad behavior after that.