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Knorr embraces role as Williams’ bench coach

Nov 4, 2013, 6:00 AM EDT

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Randy Knorr knew he had overwhelming support from players, not to mention Davey Johnson. He felt his interview with Mike Rizzo and members of the Lerner family a few weeks ago went well. And, he admitted, there was a point when he really thought he was going to be the next manager of the Washington Nationals.

So when Knorr first got word that Matt Williams was getting the job instead, his disappointment was genuine.

Until Williams called him later that evening, spoke glowingly about the Nationals’ bench coach of the last two years and asked him to return in the same role next season. Knorr didn’t have to think twice about accepting the offer.

“That night, I was a little disappointed,” he said. “But after it happened, I moved on. That night, it’s just kind of the way it happened. He asked me to be the bench coach right away, and it gave me a chance to move past it. He gave me the bench coach job, he said he wanted me. So, let’s go.”

It could be an incredibly awkward situation, two competitors for the same job now working together, one reporting directly to the other. But those who know Knorr best insist he’s uniquely equipped to handle such a situation.

“I can see how people could look at that and maybe see that there could be some uncomfortableness,” right fielder Jayson Werth said. “But they don’t know Randy. And if you knew Randy, you could see how that whole thing could work. It takes a special person, I would say. But Randy is a special person, and that’s why he got so many guys on his side and so many people that wanted him back here, no matter what.”

A member of the Nationals’ organization as either a player, minor-league manager or major-league coach since 2001, Knorr was the top in-house candidate to succeed Johnson. Countless players didn’t hide their feelings at season’s end, openly endorsing the 44-year-old former catcher for the job.

Williams, though, has been close to Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo since 1999. And the five-time, All-Star third baseman blew away other club officials during his interview last month.

So it was that Williams found himself the center of attention Friday afternoon at his introductory news conference, while Knorr found himself watching from the front row. Williams encouraged Knorr to fly in from his offseason home in Tampa to attend.

“There’s a special guy here who flew in who was also a candidate for this job,” Williams said during his opening remarks. “Randy Knorr took the time and got here today to be a part of this. We are going to spend some time together, for sure. And he is going to be a guy that I lean on, certainly in the beginning and throughout this coming season and hopefully many seasons in the future to make this a winning club. So thank you, Randy, for being here. I appreciate it very much.”

“It was a tough decision to come up today, because to me, this is his day,” Knorr said. “It’s a big day for him, and I didn’t want to take anything away from that. But he asked me to come up, and I’m his bench coach and I’ll support him 100 percent. If he wanted me to come up, I came up today. But I didn’t want any focus on me. I wanted it all on him.”

The two knew each other only casually, from their days playing and coaching against each other. But they’re making a concerted effort to build a relationship right now. It will continue this week when Knorr flies to Arizona, where Williams lives, and spend several days talking shop with his new boss.

“I am going to lean on him heavy,” Williams said. “He knows this. He knows the organization. He knows the game. He is a full-blown manager candidate just like all of us, otherwise Mike wouldn’t have interviewed him. He is probably the biggest part of this staff, certainly getting to know the players and moving forward for me.”

Knorr had never interviewed for a big-league managing job before. Whether he gets another opportunity remains to be seen. A 13-year stint with one organization certainly makes him valuable to that franchise, though it hasn’t necessarily made him a big name elsewhere in the baseball world.

For now, Knorr is perfectly happy to remain bench coach of the Nationals. Even if it means working for the guy who got his dream job.

“I’m fine with it,” Knorr said. “I’ve moved on. Just to go through the whole interview process the first time was great for me. I feel fortunate to have done it. I didn’t get it. Maybe the next time.”

  1. nats128 - Nov 4, 2013 at 7:11 AM

    I think this is a win-win situation. The 2013 Nats were close to making the post-season and this isn’t like a house cleaning in Seattle Washington. Randy Knorr seemed to be a asset not a liability. I think its a job well done for Rizzo and Williams to retain Knorr as the #2.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Nov 4, 2013 at 8:47 AM

      Team chemistry is extremely important to the overall success of a team. Agreed, good job by Rizzo and Williams for getting Knorr back.

    • Sonny G 10 - Nov 4, 2013 at 3:03 PM

      +1

  2. Ghost of Steve M. - Nov 4, 2013 at 8:51 AM

    The A’s declined Kurt Suzuki’s option as expected and he is now a Free Agent. When Suzuki plays a couple times a week he is a much better player. For $1 to $2 million I would try to get him back as a backup.

    • Section 222 - Nov 4, 2013 at 9:28 AM

      Great point. We certainly could do worse than Suzuki as a backup (remember the days of Josh Bard?), the question is can we do better. Given Ramos’s injury history, it’s really important to get a guy who can play 5 games a week if necessary (Leon and the Onion probably still don’t qualify), but who will be comfortable in the backup role. Other than Suzuki, who’s out there?

      • Hiram Hover - Nov 4, 2013 at 9:38 AM

        I hear you, but a back up is a back up–if it’s someone who could perform well playing 5 games a week, he wouldn’t be a back up in the first place.

      • DaveB - Nov 4, 2013 at 9:51 AM

        I’ve heard Geovany Soto mentioned as someone who is close to starter quality, but probably will end up as a backup, so might cost a little less than Kurt. Also, Brayan Pena although I think even more flaws there.

  3. Theophilus T.S. - Nov 4, 2013 at 8:54 AM

    Retention of virtually all of the coaches, coupled with Williams’s comments about “execution” indicate management is clearly pointing the finger for last year’s retrenchment on the players, a combination of stupidity, block-headedness and laziness (if laissez-faireness were a word it might be a better choice; maybe “lassitude”). We’ll know within the first couple months if Williams has the solution, whether they buy into it, rebel, or just ignore him.

    • Hiram Hover - Nov 4, 2013 at 9:18 AM

      Perhaps you’re projecting, Theo. Those were some pretty innocuous comments.

      • Hiram Hover - Nov 4, 2013 at 9:21 AM

        Hit comment too soon – I meant to add, “and a pretty unsurprising decision to retain most of the coaching staff.”

      • Section 222 - Nov 4, 2013 at 9:34 AM

        I was surprised too. Especially that they retained McCatty. Anyone know any backstory on Lett? Is he staying in the organization? Surely he can’t have been singled out as being subpar with everyone else sticking around.

      • Theophilus T.S. - Nov 4, 2013 at 9:50 AM

        You take the two places where Williams chose to distinguish his approach from the previous administration — “aggressiveness” and “execution.” Those are not “innocuous” — especially when what we all watched for six months was reminiscent of John McKay, when asked about about his team’s “execution,” saying he was “in favor of it.” What makes the “fine line” Williams was talking about — and it’s clear that he was making the connection — between 3.25 runs a game and 4.25 is execution.

      • Jw - Nov 4, 2013 at 10:42 AM

        Lett wore Williams’s number 9. It was cheaper to fire him than to pay him off for it.

      • Hiram Hover - Nov 4, 2013 at 10:46 AM

        “Execution” can mean something very specific, but it can also be a post-game presser cliche/excuse–“We just failed to execute.” As a generalization, It can mean everything or anything, so it really means nothing. Let’s wait until spring training and we can see exactly which players, and which failures of execution, he targets.

        You’re leaping from these comments and coaching (non)-moves to the conclusion that management blames the players, while it seems just as plausible to think they’re blaming Davey . From Davey’s own comments afterwards, that’s how he seemed to take some of the stuff about “aggressiveness.”

        Anyway, I’m much more interested in looking forward than in trying to parse the blame for last season. The roster isn’t going to get blown up, so I hope these guys and Matt Williams can do in 2014 what these guys and Davey didn’t in 2013. If they do, there will be enough credit to go around.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Nov 4, 2013 at 9:40 AM

      Execution was certainly a problem on this team but there was a whole bunch of reasons why this team didn’t reach expectations and much of it was the players and player decisions made by the GM. The bench stunk, the bullpen was average and the Silver Slugger/Gold Glove 1st baseman was tarnished and the Gold Glove 3rd baseman had the worst UZR for any player in the Majors. Davey at the helm made his share of mistakes too. I think there was plenty of blame to go around.

      I think if you go back to the head-to-head games with the Braves and analyze those its a good perspective into what went wrong this season and Game #10 of the year seemed to set the tone. Some people say 1 game can’t dictate the rest but I saw a different team from that point on until the youngest member of the team stood up and handed out his tshirts with a spirited message. I think that was around August 1st and the team responded.. Bryce is a type of player who can carry a team and when Williams called him a leader he knew what he was talking about. Look who was on hand for Williams–Werth and Desmond. I’m sure Bryce would’ve been there if he didn’t just have surgery. Does anyone know where the FoF was?

      Yes, lead by example is a great saying but back it up with actions. Actions speak louder than words.

      • acethehammer - Nov 4, 2013 at 10:11 AM

        Zimmerman was hosting his Eighth Annual ziMS Foundation Charity Gala in Virginia Beach on Friday night, so you could say he was otherwise engaged in something important.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Nov 4, 2013 at 10:28 AM

        Thanks Ace.

      • NatsLady - Nov 4, 2013 at 11:41 AM

        Phil Wood said on Saturday morning he was “out of the country.” I almost called in to say he was at the charity event, which was scheduled long before the press conference.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Nov 4, 2013 at 12:02 PM

        NatsLady, that’s interesting. When is the due date on Ryan’s baby? I know the other Zimmermann is due to be a father any day now.

  4. Theophilus T.S. - Nov 4, 2013 at 9:59 AM

    I think Williams was giving Harper a free pass — saying “I love the way he plays the game” isn’t the same as saying “I love the way some of the things he does — like running into walls, outs, arguing with umpires, missing the cut-off guy — hurt the team.” I don’t think he has any other choice. I hope he has the grit to get across to Harper the difference between “wow” and “smart.” Harper doesn’t have the right to decide “how he plays the game” at the expense of runs and outs.

    And “Where was the FofF?” is a great question. Unless there’s a turnaround in the next year or two, adulation of the FofF is going to be as fabricated as Jeter-love.

  5. Ghost of Steve M. - Nov 4, 2013 at 10:00 AM

    On July 31, Bryce spoke up and Kilgore’s headline was “Bryce Harper wants Nationals to show ‘heart’ and ‘play like a family’ “. Bryce played injured much of the year and was still an asset to this team. Ramos played injured muchof the year and led the team team in BA with RISP, Desi and Werth played through their ailments and put up big numbers for the team.

    I think the Espinosa and Zimmerman shoulder injuries were clearly more impactful in a negative way on this team and management had no easy solution for what happened and my question always was could Rizzo had anticipated any of this back in the off-season? Zimmerman wasn’t even throwing in games until the end of Spring Training.

    • NatsLady - Nov 4, 2013 at 10:06 AM

      The problem, if you want to call it a “problem”, is that the Nats were prematurely good. The 98-win season wasn’t supposed to happen, it was supposed to be 85 to 90 and hope for a Wild Card. Rizzo hasn’t had the ten years he needs to build a farm system that can support a playoff team, with the depth that can handle injuries to key players (see Barves and Cards). That showed in 2013, especially with the promotion of Rendon–who did fine, but really needed more time in the minors if he was going to play 2B.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Nov 4, 2013 at 10:33 AM

        NatsLady, absolutely agree that the organizational home grown depth wasn’t there. My thoughts would be veteran FAs to fill the need. This is where the poor performance of the bench buried the team. Bernadina was playing with a wrist injury and was a poor fill-in for Bryce, and Lombo just isn’t an every day player.

        I think Rizzo and Williams have some tough decisions for the bench and can’t afford to start the season with a bunch of one dimensional players.

      • Sonny G 10 - Nov 4, 2013 at 3:12 PM

        +2

  6. Eugene in Oregon - Nov 4, 2013 at 10:20 AM

    222 at 9:34 wrote: “Anyone know any backstory on Lett? Is he staying in the organization? Surely he can’t have been singled out as being subpar with everyone else sticking around.”
    +++++++++++++++++++++++

    I certainly don’t know the backstory, but part of the decision may come down to the role the manager (or GM) sees the bullpen coach playing. Is he just someone who keeps the bullpen organized, answers the phone, conveys messages, and otherwise contributes little to the pitching staff (or pitching decisions)? Or is he someone who knows pitching (and pitchers) and can make useful contributions/suggestions — either to the individual members of the bullpen or to the manager? Mr. Lett was never a pitcher (apart from a single minor league appearance, presumably in a mop-up role) nor a catcher and I’m not sure what value he added, beyond the messenger role he played. Mr. LeCroy, as a former catcher, may be in a better position to (a) help the pitchers themselves, given that Mr. McCatty is in the dugout, and (b) more effectively evaluate whether a pitcher who is warming up is ready to go or not. I think it was Jim Bouton — not sure about that — who wrote about the importance of bullpen coaches really evaluating (and then honestly conveying) how a particular pitcher was throwing before sending him into the game. And a former catcher is probably better positioned to make that kind of a call than Mr. Lett was (no offense intended).

    • NatsLady - Nov 4, 2013 at 11:39 AM

      Agree. The bullpen coach has more responsibility nowadays, tracking pitch counts for relievers, seeing how many times they warmed up, etc.

    • knoxvillenat - Nov 4, 2013 at 2:53 PM

      As far as I can tell Lett joined the Nationals in 2010 along with former bench coach John McLaren and first base coach Dan Radison, all of whom were hired under Jim Riggleman. McLaren of course resigned after Riggleman’s resignation and after serving as interim manager for the series in Chicago out of loyalty to Riggleman while Radison was subsequently fired after Riggleman’s resignation. I don’t know how Lett managed to survive another couple years afterwards as most managers in Johnson’s position would generally wnat to have their “own guys” on staff…..or so I would think anyway.

    • scbilly - Nov 5, 2013 at 10:31 AM

      It would make sense that Williams would want a coach who was his guy involved with the pitching staff. If he wanted to keep McCatty, didn’t have a pitching coach of his own to suggest or wasn’t given the opportunity by Rizzo to make that hire, putting his guy in the bullpen would be the logical alternative. Hope the new guy knows something about teaching pitchers to hold men on base, as McCatty seems to be unable to deal with the issue.

  7. Ghost of Steve M. - Nov 4, 2013 at 11:18 AM

    Theophilus writes: And “Where was the FofF?” is a great question. Unless there’s a turnaround in the next year or two, adulation of the FofF is going to be as fabricated as Jeter-love.

    Interesting comparison to Jeter but it’s not close to the same. One is an instant HOF who will be 40 and will probably hang it up after 2014 and the other was Mr. Potential who was the closest player the Nats had to their own definition of ‘great’.

    Ryan just turned 29 years old and seems to be the linchpin for the Nats 2014 success as I think he has the ability to also carry this team.

    Again, actions are louder than words. Let’s see it.

    • Theophilus T.S. - Nov 4, 2013 at 12:37 PM

      The point, GSM, is that the adoration of Jeter was/is the product of a 20-year public relations campaign that created a Jack Armstrong/Hoby Baker myth that would not withstand serious scrutiny — if scrutiny were permitted, which — because of the power of the myth — it is not. Jeter backed up the myth with accomplishments but in his later years his performance has been sheltered from examination in NYC (less so elsewhere).

      As I think you are saying Zimmerman has been crowned with glory by default of any legitimate contender (now we have Harper and Strasburg although their staying power is yet to be proven). At the same time his performance has not followed an ascending arc, and if I had to give him a grade on leadership it would be no better than a D. If Z’man wants to continue to be revered he needs to attend functions like this one, or at least issue a statement through the concierge at his hotel in Hawaii or wherever he is, and — most important — step up his game.

      • David Proctor - Nov 4, 2013 at 12:56 PM

        As was said above, Zimmerman was at his charity event that was scheduled well before any of this. He did provide a quote to Bill Ladson about the hire, saying he supported it and all those cliches.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Nov 4, 2013 at 2:04 PM

        Theophilius, thanks for the further explanation. I’m not sure about what came first with Jeter but I will givecredit, he’s a winner and will hopefully retire with dignity. Ken Griffey Jr. prolonged his career and left it when his career hit bottom.

        I think there’s a lot more to the RZim story and you are right that he has to step it back up this year.

      • scbilly - Nov 5, 2013 at 10:34 AM

        To be fair, RZim’s progress was halted by the breakdown of his body. If 2014 is his first healthy season in years he may start to earn the accolades that were granted a little early when the Nationals had no real stars to push into the spotlight.

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