The managerial search continues for the Nationals. Most likely, a decision or announcement will not come until after the World Series.
Manager Davey Johnson leaves with a Hall of Fame legacy. Finishing his career with the Nationals, he won 100 games in 2012 and 86 in 2013.
General manager Mike Rizzo has to make one of the bigger decisions of his tenure. His choice will decide the direction the organization will go for at least the next five seasons.
Bench coach Randy Knorr appears to have the clubhouse on his side and has experience managing many of the players already on the 40-man roster from his time in the Nationals farm system.
One of my favorite stories was his time as an Arizona Fall League manager. There he coached many of the league’s top prospects. Most of the players on his roster were from other teams. One game, a top prospect didn’t run hard to first on a routine groundout. Knorr pulled the star player.
That night he got a call from the general manager of that player’s major league organization. That general manager was not happy his star prospect wasn’t in the lineup and wanted the player to play. Knorr told the GM he respected him and why he wanted this player to play. But Knorr told him the player would play only when he promised to hustle every at-bat and every play.
Knorr spoke with the star prospect. Knorr said the player understood what he needed to do and then never had a problem again with that kid. He hustled like his life depended on it each and every at-bat for the rest of the season.
The example shows what kind of manager Knorr was and is today. He won’t surrender to the pressures from another coach if he believes a player is not playing the game the way it should be played. That is what you can expect from Knorr with the Nationals.
But does this team need a new voice to shake up a team that underachieved in 2013? Is it a good thing to get a new direction to help the current players see the game in a different light?
Johnson’s way was a good one, but it is not the only way.
Could a Matt Williams, Cal Ripken Jr. or others be that different voice that could get that little extra out of this team in order to get past the Braves next season?
Maybe going outside the organization will make the current players look at their games from a different angle and see improvements they could make that weren’t clearly visible under Johnson. Sometimes a fresh look, an alternate path or a change in routine can make a huge difference when you are that close to the top.
Players, just like workers in a company, can get comfortable with a manager or a boss. Just like a teacher in school. Students get used to that teacher, know what that teacher expects of them, figure out the way to achieve that expectation and get in a nice, smooth groove.
But insert a new teacher who challenges that student to look beyond just what they have done so far, or what may be considered good enough, and they may work harder to get better. It can be uncomfortable and painful at times. But that new teacher can sometimes bring out that little extra in that student the he or she never knew they had. Ultimately, that new voice makes that student a better student by challenging them in ways they never thought of before.
Could that be the change the Nationals need to get over the hump?
One example of what a change can have on the team occurred when hitting coach Rick Eckstein was let go.
Look at the influence hitting coach Rick Schu had on the struggling offense in a short time. Even if it is a subtle change, it can sometimes make a big difference in a team’s outcome.
They say it all the time that getting off to a good start is critical for any baseball team. Imagine the season the Nationals could have had if they had raced out of the gate. Instead, they lost a ton of ground early and had the added pressure of climbing uphill to get back in the race. Finding a voice that can get these guys going in April and May should be at the top of the wish list.
Maybe that voice is outside of the organization right now. That kind of shakeup might be just what this talented clubhouse needs to make that next step back to first place.