There have been a lot of names and faces that have passed through Washington Nationals’ history since the franchise brought baseball back to Washington in 2005.
Randy Knorr has seen most, if not all, of them. He is the institutional knowledge of his organization, in uniform longer than anyone in the franchise — from nearly every level of the minor leagues to several stints with the major league club.
Now the former major league catcher is back in the big leagues, a new addition to manager Dave Martinez’s coaching staff, taking his place in the first base box on the field at Nationals Park for Thursday night’s opener against the New York Mets.
“I’m really looking forward to being back there,” Knorr said.
He’ll see many familiar faces, having managed many of the Nationals players who have come through their minor league system. Knorr was Ryan Zimmerman’s first manager, as well as Stephen Strasburg’s — the real Stephen Strasburg and the fake Stephen Strasburg.
Knorr, 52, has seen some things since he began managing the Single-A Savannah Sand Gnats, Washington’s South Atlantic League club in 2005.
“In the beginning of the season, my pitching coach Mark Grater and I were the grounds crew and the clubhouse guys,” Knorr said. “We didn’t have a grounds crew yet and the clubhouse guy quit after two days. So we started out the season as manager, pitching coach, grounds crew and clubhouse guys.”
He had some of the team’s early young prospects in Ian Desmond — and briefly, the franchise’s first draft choice in Washington. Knorr only managed Ryan Zimmerman for a few days, but it made an impression on both of them.
“The first game, he strikes out twice and pops up,” Knorr said. “So we’re down in the locker room and I say to him, ‘Hey, Ryan, how much did we give you?’
He kind of looked at me and said the number, and I said, ‘Wow, we paid all that money for that tonight?’ I walked away, and I kind of figured, first rounder, he could take it.
“He was only there a few days, but those next few days were unbelievable,” Knorr said. “He went 3 for 4 with two homers, 3 for 4 the next day with two doubles, and then he’s off to Double A. I don’t see him again until the middle of 2006, when I get hired as the Nats bullpen coach. I see him one night in the hotel bar and we have a drink. He says, ‘Do you remember what you said to me on my first day professionally?’ I couldn’t remember, so he repeated it. I asked, ‘Did that bother you?’ He said, ‘Absolutely it bothered me. The first day I get there and I felt like I had failed.’”
Then there was his time managing Strasburg, who made his debut with Knorr with Double-A Harrisburg in 2010.
“There was so much attention,” he said. “He was with us for a few games. There was a grounds crew guy that looked like him. We would put him in a Strasburg uniform and people thought that Strasburg went home in his uniform. We would put the uniform on him and he would be on the field in a cart and we would yell, ‘There goes Stephen.’ People would follow this guy while the real Stephen would be going the other way so he could leave.”
This was the minor leagues, so they weren’t all first-round draft picks and stars. Sometimes, especially in the early days of the organization, there would be the delinquents — like the troubled Elijah Dukes. Knorr had Dukes on a rehabilitation assignment in 2008 with the Single-A Potomac in the Carolina League.
“I only had two rules, just give me your best effort and show up on time,” Knorr said. “If you don’t give me that, you won’t play. So he misses batting practice. I called Jim (general manager Jim Bowden) and asked, ‘Do you still want this guy to play?’ He is coming back from an injury, so he has to go through a routine to play. Jim says, ‘I need him to play.’
“I bring him in and say, ‘Elijah, you’ve got to be here for batting practice. If you are not here, you’re not playing in the game,’” Knorr said. “I got my whole team looking at me and saying, ‘Are you going to keep your same rules?’
“So the next day he shows up late for batting practice. I told him, ‘You’re not playing today. You can just go home.’ Jim calls me and he is screaming at me. I said, ‘He’s not playing.’ He is screaming, ‘There is only so many days he can be on rehab,’ I said, ‘Jim, tell him to show up on time.’ He didn’t play. Jim was so mad at me. They moved him to a different club.”
Knorr would serve as bench coach for both managers Davey Johnson and Matt Williams from 2012 to 2015. He was fired when Williams was let go, and at the same time his wife passed away. Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo named him his senior advisor on player personnel. He would return to manage Triple-A Syracuse in 2018 and Triple-A Fresno in 2019.
“Mike Rizzo has been really good to me,” Knorr said. “After 2015 my wife passed away and I lost my job in the same year. Mike created a job for me so I could go home and put my affairs in order. I was a coordinator for two years and at one point he asked me if I wanted to go back to managing and I said yes.
“Now I have this new girl in my life, Tammy, who has helped me put my life back together. And now I am back in the big leagues.”
You can hear Thom Loverro on The Kevin Sheehan Show podcast.