Williams: 'We're here to win'
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.”