Friday, December 14, 2001

Dawn breaks on new Knight

Vows to be better as coach than manager

By John Fay
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        BOSTON — The Reds didn't make a blockbuster trade at the winter meetings, but they made — at least in local circles — a blockbuster hiring. Ray Knight is coming back as a coach.

        That's the same Ray Knight who was fired by general manager Jim Bowden or run out of town by Barry Larkin in 1997, depending on whom you believe. Knight and Jim Lefebvre were named Thursday to fill the openings created when Ron Oester and Billy Doran were fired. Lefebvre will serve as hitting coach. Knight said he probably will be bench coach, but the assignments haven't been made for Knight, Ken Griffey Sr. and Tim Foli.

        Griffey Sr. had been in line to become the bench coach after serving as hitting coach in 2001, so he would have to move to coaching first or third base if Knight is correct.

        “I always wanted to come back,” Knight said. “I hated the way things ended.”

        It ended badly for Knight in Cincinnati. He was fired as Reds manager midway through the 1997 season and replaced by Jack McKeon. Knight was 124-137 in his 1 1/2 years as manager.

        “As a manager, I was too micro,” Knight said. “I'm a lot better coach than I am a manager.”

        At the time of his firing, Knight accused Larkin of being behind it, but that has been patched up.

        “Once we talked and he found out I didn't say what he thought I said, everything was cool,” Larkin said. “I like Ray. I like his enthusiasm. I think he can help us.”

        Knight has talked to Bowden from time to time since Knight was fired.

        “From the very get-go after I got fired, we stayed in touch,” Knight said. “I would talk to him when I came in from time to time with ESPN.”

        Knight worked as an ESPN commentator from 1998-2000. He took off 2001 after having back surgery just before the season.

        “I've been chilling and having fun with the kids,” he said.

        But Knight missed baseball.

        “Absolutely,” he said. “That's my life, and I love Cincinnati. That's where my career started.”

        The coaching positions were manager Bob Boone's call.

        “I talked to a lot of people,” Boone said. “I was a little worried that Ray had managed here. But the pluses outweighed the minuses. Some (of Knight's problems in Cincinnati) were perception more than reality.”

        Boone went to Atlanta on Saturday to interview Knight.

        “I was excited to start with,” Knight said. “I got more and more excited. After Saturday, I thought it would happen. He called (Thursday) morning, and we were able to consummate the deal.”

        Boone talked to Larkin before hiring Knight. Larkin gave a ringing endorsement.

        “Ray was the best hitting instructor I've ever had,” Larkin said. “He's a great coach.”

        Knight and Boone actually worked together as Reds coaches on Davey Johnson's staff in 1994.

        “I like his work ethic, his passion for the game,” Boone said.

        Knight took over for Johnson after the 1995 season. The Reds finished 81-81 in '96 after finishing first in '94 and '95.

        Knight was fired in July 1997. The Reds were 43-56 at the time.

        Knight played for the Reds in 1974 and 1977-81. He was the player who replaced Pete Rose at third base in 1979. He led the team with a .318 average that year.

        He was traded to the Houston Astros for Cesar Cedeno in winter 1981. He also played for the New York Mets, including their 1986 World Series championship team.

        Knight returned to the Reds as a coach for Johnson in 1993. He almost got the manager's job after '94, but Johnson was brought back for one year — with Knight as assistant manager and an understanding that Knight would take over in 1996.

        His last job with the Reds will help him take a different approach in his new one.

        “I want to fit in and do whatever Bob wants me to do,” Knight said. “I've enjoyed these talks we've had. I know his heart's in the right place. He wants to do things right. I have so much respect for the (manager's) position. I had no idea how tough it was. I'm going in with a whole different perspective.”


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