General manager Mike Rizzo gave Williams the news during a meeting at Nationals Park on Monday morning. According to a source, Rizzo was apologetic when he told Williams of his dismissal.
"These are the first of the decisions that we felt we needed to make as we meticulously evaluate why the 2015 season didn't go the way we had hoped," Rizzo said. "This entire season was a disappointment, not only for myself, but ownership, to the fan base of Washington. It wasn't our best year, it wasn't Matt's best year. It wasn't my best year, as an organization, it wasn't our best year."
Williams, 49, had limited managerial experience when he was hired in November 2013, but led the Nationals to a 96-66 record -- the best record in the National League, good for an NL East title -- in his first season. The Nationals lost to the Giants in the Division Series and Williams was named NL Manager of the Year.
But the Nationals went 83-79 this year, which resulted in a disappointing second-place finish after Washington entered the season with high expectations. Overall, Washington went 179-145 in Williams' two seasons.
The Nationals were a favorite to win the World Series, especially after they signed free-agent right-hander Max Scherzer during the offseason. But Williams' job appeared to be in jeopardy after the Nationals were swept in a three-game series against the Mets during the second week of September, losses that put Washington seven games behind first-place New York.
There were reports in The Washington Post indicating that Williams didn't have the respect of some of the veteran players, especially outfielder Jayson Werth. Williams declined to defend himself to the media when the reports came out.
The final straw may have come on Sept. 27 during a game against the Phillies, when a dugout tussle took place between outfielder Bryce Harper and reliever Jonathan Papelbon. Williams said he didn't see the altercation until he watched the video of it later that night, and he sent Papelbon out to pitch the following inning. No one on Williams' coaching staff told him what had gone on between the two players. Papelbon was suspended for four games by the club, while Harper sat out a game.
"We are going to take [Williams'] whole body of work into consideration. We made a decision based on what was best for the organization," Rizzo said.
With Williams out, the Nationals will hire their sixth manager in 10 years. Dave Martinez and Wally Backman could be among the candidates to manage the club. Rizzo said that Knorr has a chance to become the next skipper.
"Leadership qualities, knowledge of the game and Xs and O's are all important. Communication in the clubhouse is vital. … Experience is always helpful," Rizzo said about the next manager of the Nationals.