- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 21, 2011

MIAMI (AP) - Jack McKeon was home in North Carolina watching his granddaughter’s softball game when the phone rang with a job offer.

Always one to go against the grain, McKeon hopped on a plane bound for Florida to come out of retirement. At 80, he’s the second-oldest manager in major-league history and the oldest since 1950.

“Why should experience get penalized?” he said Monday, shortly after being reintroduced as the Florida Marlins’ manager. He led them to the World Series championship in 2003, retired two years later and figures he’s ready for a career comeback, despite his age.

“Sometimes it gets blown out of proportion,” he said. “Maybe I’m not hip with the Twitter or Facebook or stuff like that, but outside of that I don’t have any problem disciplining my kids _ or these players.”

McKeon’s title is interim manager, and he’ll lead the team for the rest of the season. More than ever does the National League’s nickname seem apt: the senior circuit.

The hiring created a buzz around baseball.

“It’s very unusual, almost unthinkable,” said Rays manager Joe Maddon, who is 57.

“God bless him,” said Yankees manager Joe Girardi, 46. “I would hope I’d have the energy at 80 years old to do that.”

“I just hope I feel good enough to put my pajamas on, let alone manage,” said Tigers manager Jim Leyland, 66.

The oldest big-league manager was Connie Mack, who led the Philadelphia Athletics in a straw hat and suit until 1950, when he was 87. McKeon will wear a ballcap and uniform with No. 25.

McKeon made no mention Monday of Mack, but said he draws inspiration from 84-year-old Joe Paterno, who will coach Penn State’s football team for a 46th season this year.

“I’ve managed since I was 14 years old,” McKeon jokingly said. “I’ll probably manage until I’m 95.”

Actually, McKeon was 42 when he began managing in 1973. None of his current players were yet born, but none objected to the prospect of taking orders from someone older than their grandparents.

“It doesn’t matter how old he is,” 21-year-old slugger Mike Stanton said. “He’s very respected in the game. We know what he has to offer, and that’s knowledge to bring to a younger clubhouse.”

Injured pitcher Josh Johnson is the only current member of the Marlins who played for McKeon.

Florida’s new old manager succeeds Edwin Rodriguez, who resigned Sunday. The change in leadership failed to inspire an immediate reversal by the Marlins, whose losing streak reached 11 games Monday night when they were beaten by the Los Angeles Angels, 2-1.

But McKeon’s an octogenarian focused on October. He envisions his struggling team making the playoffs.

“We’ll be all right,” he said. “We’ll turn this thing around. Don’t worry about it.”

Like a lot of folks his age, McKeon enjoys smoking cigars and telling stories, preferably at the same time. But he gets restless at home and said lately he was spending 12 to 15 hours a day watching games on TV.

His family gave the OK for him to return to the dugout.

“My wife was probably happy to get me out of the house,” he said.

The job means long days, late nights and a grueling travel schedule. McKeon figures he can do it because he has done it before.

“It’s like riding a bike. Nothing to it,” he said.

McKeon had been employed as a part-time special assistant to Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria. Team president David Samson said McKeon works harder than many people half his age and seems even sharper mentally than in 2003, when he came out of another retirement at age 72 to take over the Marlins in May.

That hiring made him the oldest manager to take over a big league team, and he quickly revived the franchise. Florida beat the Yankees in the World Series, and McKeon received the NL manager of the year award for the second time.

White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, who was McKeon’s third-base coach in 2003, isn’t surprised to see him in the dugout again.

“He loves the game. He loves to be around media. He loves to be around players. He loves to compete against another team,” Guillen said. “I hope he can do the same thing he did in 2003.”

That will be tough: The Marlins are 1-19 in June. But president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest, who also hired McKeon in 2003, said his old-school approach might be enough to spark a turnaround.

“It’s going to be his way, and if you don’t like it, we’re going to find somebody else to do it his way,” Beinfest said. “Everybody pretty much knows where they stand. I think he’s fair. He can be tough. He can be loving. This is an experienced guy who knows what he is doing. There’s a lot of comfort in that. It will be a different approach. We’ll see if the guys respond.”

White Sox outfielder Juan Pierre predicted they will. He played for McKeon on the 2003 World Series team.

“He is definitely going to light a fire under the guys over there if he does the same thing he did with us,” Pierre said. “He’s up in age, but I guess he can still move around enough to get out there every day. God bless him for even wanting to come back at 80 years old.”

After three successive winning seasons with Florida, McKeon retired as manager at age 74 in 2005. There had been a buzz for several years that he wanted to return to the dugout.

“I had a little siesta,” he said. “After I laid out for a year and a half or two years, I started to miss it.”

This is the second successive season Florida has changed managers in June. Rodriguez was a first-time major-league manager. In McKeon, the Marlins are going with experience _ lots of it.

“He has always been good with young kids, always. And they’ve got a young team,” Rangers manager Ron Washington said. “It will keep him energized. And as long as he can get to a cigar, he’ll be fine.”

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AP Sports Writers Joe Kay in Cincinnati, Rick Gano in Chicago, Stephen Hawkins in Dallas and Colin Fly in Milwaukee contributed to this report.