A change of managers at the Triple-A level may not sound like a big deal. And from a pure baseball standpoint, it’s probably not.
Still, the news that Randy Knorr will be managing the Nationals’ top minor league affiliate - news that had been reported 2 1/2 months ago but was officially announced by the club on Friday - is significant for many people within the organization.
An organization that doesn’t have very many remaining links to its pre-Washington days has an especially popular one in Knorr. The former catcher played his final season in the majors for the Expos in 2001, then three more seasons for Montreal’s Triple-A affiliate before he retired. He immediately became a minor league manager for the newly relocated Nationals, leading a low-Single-A team in Savannah that in the summer of 2005 featured a newly drafted third baseman named Ryan Zimmerman.
Knorr has been a coaching fixture with the Nationals ever since, managing at every level of the minors, serving as big league bench coach under Davey Johnson and Matt Williams from 2012-15.
It was during that disappointing 2015 season that Knorr suffered personal tragedy: the unexpected death of his wife, Kimberly. He left the team for 2 1/2 weeks to mourn and was offered more time away but decided he wanted to return to his baseball family, which helped prop him up through the difficult final three months of the season.
That season ended in disarray for the Nationals, with Jonathan Papelbon choking Bryce Harper during the home finale and Williams fired one week later. Knorr, who had been the other finalist for the job when Williams was hired, was let go along with the rest of the coaching staff but was soon rehired to serve as a special advisor to general manager Mike Rizzo.
He spent the last two seasons as something of a roving instructor, working with minor leaguers throughout the Nationals’ system and making a few brief appearances in Washington. In the end, though, the dugout is where he belongs.
And so after deciding to move Billy Gardner Jr. into a roving coordinator’s role, the Nats offered Knorr a chance to take over the Triple-A club for what will be its final season in Syracuse. There he figures to manage a roster that includes several top prospects, including outfielder Victor Robles, helping prepare the budding star for permanent life in the majors.
It’s the same thing Knorr did with Zimmerman and Ian Desmond and Stephen Strasburg and countless others who went on to become stalwarts for the Nationals. And now he’ll have a chance to return to that role and keep his longstanding connection to this franchise alive and well.