Randy Knorr watches these National League East champion Washington Nationals from the dugout, often next to the man who got the job he wanted, Matt Williams — when he can find him.
“I call him, ‘Where’s Waldo?’” Knorr said. “That’s my nickname for him. We will be standing there having a conversation, and he’s standing next to me on one side when the defense is out there. We’ll be talking, I’ll still be talking to him. And he’s gone, doing something or talking to someone else.”
Knorr is Williams’ bench coach, his consigliere, so to speak, his dugout adviser on baseball matters.
But if Knorr, 45, had his way, he would have been the boss, not the adviser. This would be his championship team, not Williams’ squad.
Sitting in that dugout all season, watching the success of the players Knorr knows so well — the players who lobbied openly for Knorr to succeed Davey Johnson — does he ever think of what might have been? That he could have managed this team to an NL East title, and that he would be in the running for Manager of the Year honors — like Williams is?
“I never thought about it until you brought it up right now,” Knorr said. “I don’t think like that. This is my job, and this is what I do. I know all the players, I managed a lot of them. There is no place I want to be except here right now.”
When Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo chose Williams — who he knew well from their days together in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization — over Knorr, one of the first phone calls Williams made was to Knorr, asking him to stay in his role as bench coach, the job he had with Johnson for two seasons.
“After he got the job that night Matt called and said I know it is tough, that you were up for the same job I was,” Knorr said. “He said ‘I really need you. You know the players, and I’d really like to have you back. I know it’s a tough decision for you.’ When he said that, I told him and Riz, if I don’t have another big league managing job, why wouldn’t I want to come back here? We have a great team, and it’s a great job. It was easy for me to make that decision.”
That big league managing job may still be on the table this winter.
The Nationals will be on the big stage in the baseball playoffs, and on that stage will be Knorr, the former major league catcher who played on those World Series Toronto Blue Jays teams in 1992 and 1993, ending his playing career with this franchise — when it was the Montreal Expos — in 2001. He’s been part of this organization ever since, as a minor league manager or coach, and knows many of these players on this division-winning team well.
His tale — the guy helping the guy who got the job that he wanted — will likely be one of the postseason storylines. Unlike 2012, when Knorr sat with Johnson in the dugout during the National League division series, the spotlight will not be focused on the larger-than-life manager.
“Davey didn’t have a lot of conversations [in the dugout],” Knorr said. “He ran the game. With Davey we talked more before the game, about what was going to happen. I made out a lot of lineup cards. We talk a lot more, Matt and I.”
Is he hoping to be a candidate this winter for vacant major league managing jobs?
“I’d like to give it a shot,” Knorr said. “I think I would be pretty good at it. There are only 30 jobs. I’m not a good networker. Someone is going to really have to like what I do.”
Here is what Knorr does.
“My job is to let [Williams] throw ideas off me during the game, and if I have an idea, mention to him,” Knorr said.
Like the night of Sept. 8 at Nationals Park against the Atlanta Braves, when Jeff Kobernus came in to pinch run at third base for Wilson Ramos in the seventh inning and scored what turned out to be the winning run on a fielder’s choice ground ball by Anthony Rendon in Washington’s 2-1 win.
“I was thinking about it, but I didn’t bring it up to [Williams] with nobody out because you really don’t want to take the catcher out of the game then if you’re winning,” Knorr said. The Nationals led 1-0 at the time.
“There’s a reason why you’re winning,” Knorr said. “He’s got something going on with the pitcher, he knows what the hitters are doing. One of the luxuries of having [Jose] Lobaton is that he watches everything when he doesn’t play. He doesn’t go up into the clubhouse. He sits there and watches every pitch. So I know he’s into the game.
“I brought it up to him, ‘We have a chance to get more runs here, put Kobernus out there with a shallow fly ball he might be able to score. Willy won’t be able to score there,’” Knorr said. “That’s the stuff that we do. There are times when you’ll get a 3-1 count or a 3-2 count, do you want to run someone here? Maybe sometimes you have a guy who sometimes takes a called third strike, you don’t want to, but if you got a guy who is a contact guy, sure we’ll go.”
Knorr — particularly since he knew this clubhouse so well, and Williams was a newcomer — has also served as a player confidant.
“Sometimes players will come to me before they will come to him with stuff, and I let them vent,” Knorr said. “I know how important it is. I don’t always tell him about it because he doesn’t need to know. If they are just venting about not playing or the way they are being used, he doesn’t need to know all that. But if there is something they tell me, and I think I need to tell the skipper, I’ll tell them, ‘I have to tell the skipper this. If you really feel this way, we need to have a conversation, we can’t have you [ticked] off at the skipper and the skipper [ticked] off at you.’
“It’s usually just venting. I try to be honest with them. I felt I was lied to as a player, and it’s a horrible feeling to have that happen. They know I will give it to them straight.”
And sometimes, his job to loosen up the manager a little bit.
“During the game, Matt can be intense,” Knorr said. “So sometimes I will throw something at him. One time Jayson [Werth] dropped the ball. He came in and said it just popped out of his glove, and [Williams] was going, jeez. Really intense. I think it was the same game where Jayson then caught an easy fly ball, and I said, ‘Look Skip, he’s already getting better. He just looked at me and said, ‘That’s not funny.’”
• Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 radio and espn980.com.
• Thom Loverro can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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