PHOENIX - By no means is it a secret. General manager Mike Rizzo knows it. Nationals players know it. At this point, fans surely know it.
Randy Knorr is interested in the Washington Nationals’ managerial job that will open up once Davey Johnson steps aside at the conclusion of today’s game.
The cat was never really in the bag. But it’s certainly out now.
“Yeah, I think a lot of people are interested in it,” Knorr said a couple days ago. “It’s a great team. You just look at the players themselves, and everybody would want this job.”
The Nationals bench coach for the last two seasons, and a coach within the organization since the team came to D.C. in 2005, Knorr is acutely familiar with the talent the Nats possess, from the major league level on down.
He managed Ryan Zimmerman at Single-A Savannah back in 2005 after Zimmerman was first drafted. He managed Ian Desmond at Single-A Potomac in 2007 and 2008. He skippered Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler at various levels of the minors. Essentially, pretty much everyone in a Nationals uniform who came up through the team’s minor league system prior to the 2012 season, when Knorr moved into the Nats’ dugout, has played under him at one point.
It not only gives him knowledge of the skill-sets of the players up and down the Nats roster, but it also has allowed him to build up a trust factor with many of them. While players say that matters, it’s unclear how much Rizzo will value that aspect that Knorr brings to the table. Maintaining a sense of continuity and having a knowledge of the talent in the organization is important, but just how important?
“I don’t know how much impact that has,” Knorr said. “I just think Mike’s gonna go out and find the best guy for the job, whoever he thinks it is. That’s a decision that he’s gonna make and I’d just like to be part of the decision process.”
This season, those of us who didn’t get to watch Knorr manage in the minors have gotten a couple of glimpses at what his managerial style might be like if he landed the gig in D.C. next season.
Back in late July, after Johnson had been ejected from a game against the Pirates, Knorr pulled closer Rafael Soriano during the top of the ninth inning because he didn’t like how Soriano was going about his business on the mound during a non-save situation. Then in late August, after Johnson needed to leave a game due to an illness, Knorr was critical of Bryce Harper’s lack of hustle on a ninth-inning groundout.
You might view that as Knorr being tough on his players, but coming from a man who caught 11 years in the big leagues and has been around pro baseball since he was 18, he sees it as being about respecting the game and those with whom you share the field.
“It’s not being tough, it’s just doing the right thing,” Knorr said. “And in the past, we’ve let it go so much that ... there’s a certain feeling when you run the ball out, you know? ‘This is the way I play the game. This is what I am. This is me as a person.’ And that’s one of the biggest things for me. Act like you want to be on the field. There’s eight other guys out there with you that are trying to win the ballgame, and you come out there and act like you don’t wanna be out there. ... You don’t look like you wanna be out there, get him off the field and put somebody out there who wants to be out there. Because the other guys bust their (butts) out there.
“The game has been around for a long time, and it’s taken care of a lot of people, this game has. And the guys that came before us, (shoot), they played as hard as they could, because they knew if they didn’t, they knew they wouldn’t have a job. ... Well, we’ve got to continue to do that. Just because you get paid a (crap) load of money doesn’t mean you can just back off. The game’s played a certain way, and you should play it that way. And that’s what I believe in.”
Knorr is clearly passionate about the attitude he wants his players to have on the field, but don’t let the intensity of his words on that topic fool you. He’s one of the most positive, good-natured people you’ll come across. A smile graces his face every day that he’s at the ballpark, and he does his best to pass on that positivity to his players, as well.
Over the last few weeks, a bunch of those players - Zimmerman, Desmond, Dan Haren and others among them - have endorsed Knorr, saying he would be a good fit as manager next season.
“I’d feel honored as hell that they would say that,” Knorr said. “That makes me feel really good. I try to be a very positive person because I think the game needs to be that way. And I want them to go out there and feel good about themselves every day. And that’s what I try to do. I want them to feel like, ‘Hey, you made an out, it’s OK. We got it. Just go back out and try it again. Just play the game as hard as you can and leave it all out there that day and see what happens.’ “
The last two years, Knorr has been by Johnson’s side nearly every single day from the time spring training opens in February until the season comes to an end. The two men discuss strategy hours before games start, during games when they stand next to each other at the edge of the Nats’ dugout and after games in the coaches’ room.
Knorr’s gotten to pick the brain of a man who has managed nearly 2,500 big league games and played in nearly 1,500 others, an experience he has valued.
“Davey’s brilliant. I know I tease him all the time, but he’s brilliant,” Knorr said. “He’s taught me a lot. The biggest thing I’ve learned from him is patience. ... As managers, you want to make moves and you want to do things to benefit the team, but sometimes the game will tell you what to do. You don’t have to go get the game. Just let the game develop, and it’ll show itself what to do.
“He’s very intelligent. The thing that he does, he gets so far ahead in the game, that I’m like, ‘Man, how do you get so far?’ We could be in the fourth inning and he’s already got it matched up for the eighth. I’m like, ‘Really? What if the guy gets hurt?’
“He’s been awesome. He’s a pain in the (butt), I’ve said that many times. But he’s been great to me. I learned a lot and like I said, I have a self-confidence that I know the game pretty well, but he showed me some stuff this year that I learned and I needed to learn it. I’m just grateful that he let me do this with him.”
Knorr says that he hasn’t had much of any conversation with Rizzo about the managerial job to this point, but that will surely change in the days and weeks after the season comes to an end.
This offseason carries with it a load of uncertainty for Knorr. He could end up the Nationals’ next manager. He could also end up out of a job. New managers often like to bring in their own coaches with them, and if Knorr doesn’t land the managerial job, he might not have his role as bench coach waiting for him under a new skipper.
But Knorr is approaching this process with a quality that he prides himself on - positivity - as well as one he’s picked up from Johnson - patience.
“Honestly, I don’t get wrapped up in this stuff,” Knorr said. “They’re gonna make a decision. I consider myself a good baseball person, and who knows? (Rizzo) could go get somebody else and I keep this job. I don’t know. I don’t know how that is, but all it does is cause confusion and just unwanted stress. After the season’s over, I want to go home and relax for a little bit. They make the decisions they’re gonna make, and you’ve got to live by them. If it doesn’t benefit me in that respect, then I’m sure I’ll find a job somewhere else.
“I trust my baseball knowledge and my ability. But I would love to stay here. I love these guys, these guys are great. And it’s gonna be a great team. To be a part of it in any respect is what I want. Just want to be a part of it.”