In late July, Nationals manager Davey Johnson got ejected from a game and bench coach Randy Knorr took over.
Knorr showed he wasn’t shy almost immediately. Unhappy with the way closer Rafael Soriano was pitching in a non-save situation, Knorr went out and made a pitching change. Afterward, he was very pointed in his comments. You don’t want to be out there then, we’ll get someone in who does was his basic message.
In another stint as manager-for-the-day, Knorr made it clear that he didn’t like Bryce Harper not running out a ground ball.
The Washington Post did a profile of Knorr on Monday and he talked about how he’d react to a player not hustling.
“Out,” the Post quoted Knorr as saying. “He’s out of the game. Out of the game. I don’t care. That’s not the way you play the game. I’ve always been brought up that way. It’s not hard to do. I don’t understand why guys don’t do it.”
More and more, I’m liking Knorr. Given that it is campaign season, perhaps we can market that as a slogan.
The Nationals, as everyone knows by now, are looking for a manager since Johnson is retiring. The decision belongs to general manager Mike Rizzo and, as we’ve said before, it is likely the most important decision he will make during his tenure.
Though they played like a lemon much of the season after leading baseball in regular-season victories last year, the Nats are not a lemon. Not hardly. This isn’t the Astros or the Marlins the new manager will be leading. This is still a quality machine, a team that won 30 of 42 games recently after bottoming out at six games under the .500 mark.
The Nats figure to be a contender again next season. The right manager can lead them back to the playoffs. The wrong manager? He can make a mess out of a team that needs to come back strong from this disappointing season.
This team can win and it needs to do it next year.
Rizzo will have a plethora of choices available, some with experience managing at this level, some with experience working with Rizzo. There are others out there, certainly, who will do a good job handling the Nationals.
But I’ve always been a big believer in promoting from within if the right person is available, and Knorr sure looks like he has what it takes.
That he’s willing to make the right move and call out players who aren’t performing isn’t the reason for the faith in Knorr. The reason for the faith is the ‘whys’ beyond the moves and the comments: They say that Knorr has total confidence in himself and is strong enough to do (and say) what’s right even if it might not be popular.
Does he know baseball? Sure. He played in the majors, managed in the minors, coached in the majors. But lots of people know baseball.
Can he manage a game? Presumably. He managed six seasons in the Nats’ minor-league system. But lots of people can manage a game.
What a successful major league manager needs, more than anything, is the ability to manage personalties. They’re strong at that level. Players have egos, some of them huge. A clubhouse can be a volatile mix. The late Casey Stengel once said his biggest challenge as a manager was keeping the players who hated him away from those who hadn’t made up their minds. And that was before the players made the huge salaries they do now.
Managing personalties doesn’t mean coddling them. It means setting a firm, consistent standard and living up to that standard every day. It is establishing professional expectations. It is not kowtowing to the big star, or the high-priced closer when he’s pitching like he doesn’t care. It’s not accepting a lack of hustle from the young phenom or the last guy on the bench.
Knorr managed a number of the current Nats during their trek through the team’s system. He’s been around as the bench coach for two seasons, so there’s good familiarity with him in the clubhouse. But those alone aren’t the right reasons to promote Knorr to the big chair. A new face could get familiar with the team pretty quickly.
That he’s already there, knows the team and appears to have the right stuff are the reasons to promote Knorr. Any new hire brings with it a certain amount of risks, sure. This one looks like it would be pretty safe.