The Washington Nationals players and coaches scattered from Citi Field on Sunday night with hugs and handshakes after a disappointing season, well aware that clubhouse fixtures might be missing when they gathered again. Monday morning, while many Nationals traveled home, word came that Manager Matt Williams and all of his coaches were relieved of their duties.
So when the team gathers next February for spring training in Viera, Fla., it will be under new leadership, and some coaches who have been with the organization as it developed from also-ran to contender will not be there.
“Hopefully you hope you were able to help them somewhere to get them better and all that stuff, and that somebody thought you did a good job,” said Steve McCatty, who served as pitching coach as stars like Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann and, more recently, Joe Ross emerged between 2009 and 2015. “When it comes down to it, when you get let go, somebody thinks you didn’t do a good job.”
After Williams became a focal point of blame and scrutiny for the Nationals’ playoff aspirations slipping away, his dismissal did not come as a surprise.
“He took a lot of heat. You don’t want to ever see anybody go through that,” said bullpen coach Matt LeCroy, who had been coaching in the Nationals organization since 2008 and became the major league club’s bullpen coach before last season. “At the end of the day, that’s just the nature of the beast. When you sign up, you have to be willing to go through all that, and unfortunately this year was his year.”
Bench coach Randy Knorr had been a part of the organization for so long, he was shortstop Ian Desmond’s manager in Class A ball in 2005. Desmond considers Knorr a second father. Former first base coach Tony Tarasco coached in the minors, too, and was there on the day in 2010 when a gangly former shortstop named Michael A. Taylor chased down flyballs in the outfield for the first time as a pro.
“That’s really the tough part,” LeCroy said. “We grinded it out together in the minor leagues and have been a part of instructional leagues and working with all the players and being a part of the organization as it turned into one of the best organizations in baseball. . . . It’s just a good group of men. We loved our kids; we loved our players. And they knew how we felt about them.”
Several players could not be reached for comment on the firings; others declined the opportunity. General Manager Mike Rizzo thanked Williams for his service to the team and called Monday a “rough day for the organization.” Rizzo said the team will offer positions in the organization to several of the coaches, and that if the next Nationals manager wants them on his staff, he will hire them.
“We love all these guys. They’ve been with us for years and years,” Rizzo said. “They’ve done a great job with this organization throughout their time here, and we certainly hope that a handful of these guys take us up on the opportunity to work with us in the future.”
But a new manager will have a chance to bring in his own staff, likely overhauling the clubhouse culture entirely. Someone new will write out the lineup card. Someone different will stand in the batting cage for hours, and a new face will oversee the bullpen sessions before each game.
“I’ll miss the guys,” McCatty said. “I’ll miss the guys a lot.”