WASHINGTON – When Jim Hickey replaced Paul Menhart earlier this month as the pitching coach for the Nationals, there was a lot of speculation among fans and media that manager Dave Martinez wanted to hire “his people.”
That made a lot of sense after he won a World Series in 2019 and then got a multi-year contract extension after a disappointing 2020 campaign.
The new first-base coach for the Nationals – former Montreal catcher Randy Knorr – has a long history with Martinez.
And Knorr has also been an instructor at various levels in the Washington system since the Nationals came to D.C.
On Wednesday, the Nationals announced that Knorr would be the first-base coach in 2021.
Knorr, 51, was a bench coach with the Nationals under former managers Davey Johnson and Matt Williams (2012-15).
“I never thought it would be possible,” he told Federal Baseball on Wednesday from his home in Tampa when asked about returning to the majors as a coach.
Knorr ended his playing career with the Expos in 2001, while Martinez played with Tampa Bay from 1998-2000 and ended his playing days with the Braves – also in 2001.
Knorr later played and coached in Montreal’s system, then became the Potomac manager in 2006 in the Carolina League.
“We used to hit together and work out (at Jefferson High or University of Tampa) when we were still playing,” said Knorr, who has lived in the Tampa area since the early 1990s.
“I knew his kids and family. He has always been great.”
Darnell Coles, Gary Sheffield, Reggie Jefferson, and Derek Bell were some of the other Major Leaguers who got together in the off-season to hit in Tampa with Knorr and Martinez.
“I have never been around a more positive person. I am just excited to work with him. I try to be as positive as I can; it is great to be back with him and hang out,” Knorr said of Martinez.
“We have always talked. He said he would like to get me on the (big league) staff at some point. I think he was trying to move some things around,” said Knorr, noting the economic challenges of the game today. “He surprised me the other day and asked me if I wanted to coach first and I said, ‘Absolutely.’”
A former catcher, Knorr played in 253 games in the majors starting in 1991 with Toronto. He was a backup for the Blue Jays title teams in 1992-93 under manager Cito Gaston.
As the club noted in a press release announcing the full Nationals’ coaching staff, Knorr, “... has been a part of the Washington Nationals’ organization since 2005, when he managed Single-A Savannah.”
“From 2006–08, he managed Single-A Potomac, leading them to the Carolina League championship in 2008. He spent two seasons (2010–11) managing Double-A Harrisburg before re-joining Washington’s Major League staff in 2012.”
After working as an advisor to general manager Mike Rizzo following the 2015 season, Knorr was the Triple-A manager in Syracuse in 2018 and at Triple-A Fresno in 2019.
“You have to manage people while you are there,” Knorr said of the challenging Triple-A atmosphere. “You have guys that want to get to the big leagues for the first time. There are older guys that are contemplating the end of their careers. You have to treat everybody a little different. You have to motivate them to finish out the year. I enjoyed it; I had a great staff.”
His staff at Fresno in 2019 included pitching coach Brad Holman, now the pitching coordinator in player development.
His hitting coach was Brian Daubach in 2019 and his pitching coach this year was slated to be Michael Tejera.
“The last couple of years were just incredible,” Knorr said.
Knorr, while playing for Houston in the late 1990s, said he got to know pitching coach Jim Hickey. “We kept in touch. I have known him for a while,” Knorr said.
Knorr also worked with former pitching coach Menhart in player development with the Nationals. Menhart’s contract was not picked up after this season.
“I think he did a great job for us at the time; it is just one of those things,” Knorr said of Menhart. “It is a cutthroat business. When you get up there you want to stay as long as you can; it doesn’t always happen. I didn’t want to leave the big leagues when I had to (after the 2015 season). Paul is really good at what he does. I think he will find his way back to the big leagues.”
“You want to have people around you that you feel like you can trust,” Knorr said of Martinez.
“I am not saying he didn’t trust Paul or anything like that. I think comfort is the number one thing for big-league managers.”
Knorr was slated to be back at AAA Fresno this year, but the 2020 minor league season was canceled – so instead he was a key figure in running the alternate site in Fredericksburg, VA this summer.
To prepare for his new job, Knorr will touch base with the analytical department and go over the moves to first of opposing pitchers and Washington’s running game, among other details.
“He has surrounded himself with guys who have managed (in the minors) as well,” Knorr said of Martinez. “I will be ready for whatever he wants me to do.”