“Great storyteller,” said Nationals left-hander Ross Detwiler, who played for Knorr at three minor league levels. “And he’s got some good stories, too.”
His latest story, Knorr, 43, can encapsulate with one word: “Finally,” he said one day this spring, peering over a diamond as the Nationals took batting practice. He joined the franchise in 2001, four years before the Montreal Expos relocated, and hasn’t left. He has been a backup catcher, minor league manager, bullpen coach and, now, Manager Davey Johnson’s bench coach.
What has not changed is the losing. Despite success as a manager in Class A Potomac, Class AA Harrisburg and Class AAA Syracuse, he has not been part of a winning major league season with Montreal-Washington.
“Even in the minor league system, we just weren’t very good,” Knorr said. “You look across the field coming up, these guys are bigger, stronger and more talented than we are. I came up [as bullpen coach] in 2006. I thought it was just a bunch of misfits.”
That, Knorr says, has changed. He has watched the overhaul of the player development staff, the money poured into scouting and the draft. Knorr has been with the franchise longer than anyone except two team employees at any level: Mike Wallace, the clubhouse manager, and Rob McDonald, vice president of team travel. He has been something like the Nationals’ Forrest Gump, in the background at each twist of the franchise’s fate.
During one of his final seasons as a catcher, the Expos declined to call him up from the minors in September because Major League Baseball, which owned the team, refused to purchase another contract. Days after the Nationals drafted Ryan Zimmerman, Knorr managed his first game at Class A Savannah. Knorr was in the dugout for Stephen Strasburg’s first minor league start in Harrisburg. He wrote Bryce Harper’s name into the lineup card for Harper’s first professional game in the Arizona Fall League.
‘I think I can do it’
Last fall, the Nationals summoned Knorr after his season in Syracuse ended to assist with coaching. He walked into Johnson’s office the first day and asked, “What do you want me to do while I’m here?”
“I want you to stay with me the whole time,” Johnson replied.
Knorr provided Johnson information about the Nationals’ call-ups. He was familiar with almost the whole roster, having managed, at some level, about a dozen players on the Nationals’ projected 25-man roster this year. He sponged knowledge from Johnson all month.
“I took a lot of [expletive] from my friends because I was on TV a lot,” Knorr said. “Something would come up, and he’d ask me about the players I managed. What can he do? What’d you do with him? It gave him different choices.”