During a stroll through the Nationals’ minor league camp last week, we heard Washington’s Director of Player Development, Doug Harris, tell a group of players that they must respect the “W” on their hats, because the Lerner family is trying to build a brand. While that may be true, it is becoming more and more apparent that over in major league camp, Mike Rizzo and Davey Johnson are working on shaping an attitude.
Just yesterday newly acquired bullpen hand Brad Lidge echoed this sentiment when he told the Washington Post that this year’s Nationals were the most talented team he has ever been on.
“Probably the most talented team I’ve ever been on, and I’ve been on some great teams,” he said.
That’s quite a statement from Lidge, because yes, he has been on some amazing teams. Through his career, the former closer has been to five National League Championship Series, and has appeared in three World Series, winning one. Do the Nats really have that kind of potential? Or has the team’s front office and coaching staff just done an amazing job convincing its players that they do?
The answer is; it doesn’t matter.
Anyone within the Yankees organization will tell you that while you need talent on the field to be win, a franchise must have a winning attitude from the bottom up to be continually competitive. The problem for Washington is that the first six years of this team’s existence has been filled with embarrassment, struggle, and a lot of losing. Johnson and Rizzo know that the contagious losing bug has to be squashed for the team to enter the season with the confidence needed to compete for a 2012 playoff berth.
So far, their indoctrination of winning has been effective. It started with Rizzo being willing to shell out cash to not bring in new players in free-agency, but to invest in the talent that was already in the organization through major contract extensions. It continued with the rhetoric of Johnson, who gushed over the talent in camp earlier this month, telling anyone who would listen that he thought the team was comparable to the 1986 Mets, the young team he led to a World Series 26 years ago.
Johnson also essentially made a guarantee when he told the media that the Nationals could fire him if they didn’t make the playoffs in 2012, quite a statement for a team that has never been above .500.
So far, the plan has been working. Day after day you hear quotes like the one provided by Lidge above. There was also feeling in camp last week that hadn’t been there before, a feeling that things were about to change, that it was no Washington’s time. It will be important for the team to maintain that confidence through the inevitable downs that will come during a 162 game season, but by developing the winning mind set, it will make these players hungry for victory. That’s a much better mindset than what we’ve had in previous years, when the players and coaching staff were simply hopeful for victory.