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Here’s hoping McKeon doesn’t have senior moments

- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The great thing about being a manager at 80 is that you don't have to worry about what people think.

Still, I'm wondering if Florida Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria knows there's a difference between old school and just plain old. Not since Connie Mack toiled in the dugout for the old Philadelphia A's _ a team he also owned _ has an octogenarian led a major league team so we're in uncharted waters here.

The bookies in Vegas probably can't wait to post a line for the first time television cameras catch Jack McKeon nodding off in the dugout.

But if McKeon can pull this off with the hapless Marlins he could give senior citizens their biggest boost since the introduction of Medicare. Who says 80-year-olds can't put on a uniform meant for young men and look just as silly as Tommy Lasorda always did?

The only issue I have is that his official title is interim manager, which means he's day-to-day. But, as fellow octogenarian Vin Scully likes to say, aren't we all?

Actually, Scully has a harder job than McKeon. The venerable Los Angeles Dodgers broadcaster not only has to remember who is playing where but has to figure out a way to keep listeners interested in a team that is almost as pathetic as its bickering owners.

Not that the Marlins are any better. When McKeon inherited them on Monday they were 1-19 in June and stuck firmly in the basement of the National League East. Their superstar shortstop was batting 100 points below his career average and had a grand total of 17 runs batted in.

It's not as if Loria was taking a big chance. The Marlins don't figure to be going anywhere in the standings no matter who is penciling in the starting lineup. Why else would Edwin Rodriguez jump ship without even saying goodbye after less than a year on the job?

No one seems to care much about the team, anyway, judging from the huge sections of empty seats that greet them every home stand in Miami. The only thing attractive about the team is the new stadium that will open next year with a roof to keep out the afternoon monsoons.

Give an 80-year-old a blank check, though, and maybe, just maybe, something might happen.

Might happen quickly, too.

McKeon promptly benched Hanley Ramirez in his first game before moving him to cleanup for his second. The switch worked, with Ramirez responding with two hits and the Marlins breaking an 11-game losing streak Tuesday night against the Angels.

Then he gave grateful reporters the kind of quote that managers half his age simply don't give.

"We're a summer team," McKeon said. "Today is the first day of the summer. We like to play much better baseball in the summer than we do in the spring. So watch out from now on because summer's here, and we're here."

Pretty bold statement, until you consider it comes from a guy who has seen more than his share of summers. Seen a lot of them from the dugout, too, though he's got a ways to go before he catches Mack who, in a baseball sense, was really the granddaddy of them all.

Mack was 87 when he finally turned in his straw hat and quit managing in 1950. He won 3,731 games, but lost 3,948 in a career that stretched over 53 years.

McKeon, who retired two years after leading Florida to a World Series title in 2003, was watching his granddaughter play softball when he got the call offering him the job. He had been itching to get back in the game again and _ after asking his wife if it was OK _ quickly agreed to return to Florida.

Age, he says, really is just a number. Eighty is the new 65.

"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 said.

Here's hoping the players who could be his great-grandchildren respond. The best story of the summer could be a senior citizen leading the Marlins to respectability, if not the playoffs.

Then maybe the interim could be dropped from McKeon's title, and he could get a new contract to help supplement his Social Security.

Something long term would do nicely.

____

Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg

(This version CORRECTS Corrects to National League East in 7th paragraph. Adds photos.)

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