DALY: Jack McKeon, MLB’s version of Father Time, manages Marlins

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OPINION/ANALYSIS

Jack McKeon, the Florida Marlins‘ emergency manager, is older than Don Ameche was when he made “Cocoon” — that movie about the retirees who find the Fountain of Youth in a swimming pool. He’s even older than Ameche was when “Cocoon: The Return” came out.

McKeon is starring in his own version of “Cocoon: The Return” these days. He has come back to the Marlins at the age of 80 to try to pull them out of a virtual death spiral, a 1-19 skid that drove the previous skipper, Edwin Rodriguez, to resign. Age is just a number, sure, but in Trader Jack’s case, that number — as Abraham Lincoln might put it — is four score.

What are the Marlins going to do next, bring in Old Hoss Radbourn as the pitching coach? I mean, McKeon was born in the same year as the Chrysler Building, the same year as the Lindbergh baby. When he came into this world in November 1930, a ball that bounced into the stands counted as a home run (in the National League, at least). It also was illegal to drink alcohol — something Marlins fans have been doing a lot of lately, no doubt.

McKeon is as old as the Hostess Twinkie, as old as the planet/non-planet Pluto (which an astronomer stumbled across in 1930). Here’s something else that took place in 1930: the first night game in pro baseball history (Muskogee 13, Independence 3, in a Western Association battle). The first televised game wouldn’t come until almost a decade later — basically because you can’t televise a game until somebody invents the television.

If McKeon can don a uniform again, then maybe there’s still hope for Earl Weaver (DOB: 8-14-30, three months before Jack). Heck, maybe there’s hope for all of us in our Golden Years.

McKeon has been around so long and bounced around so much that even D.C. has a partial claim on him. His first managing job, believe it or not, was with a Senators farm club — the 1956 Missoula Timberjacks of the Pioneer League. He still was playing then, too, doing most of the catching for the team. One of his pitchers was a 19-year-old southpaw named Jim Kaat.

After three years in Montana, he moved up the ladder to the Fox Cities Foxes of the Three-I League, another club in the Washington system. Remember Zoilo Versalles, the 1965 American League MVP with the Minnesota Twins (and a Senator for parts of two seasons before the franchise relocated)? Well, he played shortstop for McKeon in Fox Cities.

Yes, Jack’s managerial career goes that far back.

The Marlins are hoping McKeon can recapture the magic of 2003, when he took over a floundering Florida team early in the season and, in Hollywood fashion, led it to a World Series win over the New York Yankees. More realistically, though, they’re hoping he can stop the bleeding and return the club to respectability as it prepares to move into a new ballpark next year.

Let’s face it, there has never been a manager quite like him. In his first 10 seasons — with the Royals, Padres, Athletics and Reds — he posted a losing record (589-593) and never made the playoffs. Since turning 68, though, he’s won nearly 55 percent of his games (422-347), guided the Marlins to a championship and advanced the ‘97 Reds as far as a play-in game (thanks to a 96-66 regular season).

Also, don’t forget: A number of other managers and coaches of an advanced age — in baseball and other sports — have done some pretty amazing things in recent years. In the NFL, Marv Levy took the Buffalo Bills to four straight Super Bowls in his late 60s. In the NBA, Hubie Brown came out of retirement to win Coach of the Year honors with the Memphis Grizzlies at 69. And in the NHL, Scotty Bowman won Stanley Cups with the Detroit Red Wings at 63, 64 and 68.

Why, just last season, Bobby Cox steered the Atlanta Braves to one last playoff berth before calling it quits at 69. (But then, compared to McKeon, he was just a kid.)

Jack didn’t waste any time making his presence felt in his first game. Unimpressed with Hanley Ramirez’s hustle the previous day, he benched the slumping star Monday night, relegated him to a ninth-inning pinch-hitting appearance. It didn’t prevent another loss — this one 2-1 to the Los Angeles Angels — but it made a statement.

In fact, it was reminiscent of another guy who was born in 1930, another guy who’s as old as the Chrysler Building: Clint Eastwood.

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About the Author
Dan Daly

Dan Daly

Dan Daly has been writing about sports for the Washington Times since 1982. He has won numerous national and local awards, appears regularly in NFL Films’ historical features and is the co-author of “The Pro Football Chronicle,” a decade-by-decade history of the game. Follow Dan on Twitter at @dandalyonsports –- or e-mail him at ddaly@washingtontimes.com.

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