Jack McKeon – 1974 Topps
June 19, 2011
There’s Baseball Lifers, And Then There’s Trader Jack…
Word out of Florida are that Jack McKeon will be hired to manage the Marlins on an interim basis. When you go 1-17 in a month, and aren’t named the Cleveland Spiders, then, yeah, you’re going to change managers.
But Trader Jack McKeon? He’d be the oldest manager that didn’t own the team he managed.
He never played in the big leagues. He was a minor league catcher that didn’t hit but must have caught the eye of baseball people.
During his playing career he played for teams representing Greenville, AL; Gloverville – Johnstown, NY; York, PA; Hutchinson, KS; Burlington – Graham, NC; Greensboro, NC; Fayetteville, NC; Missoula, MT; and Fox Cities (Appleton), WI. He hit just .210 with only 25 home runs in 10 seasons.
But at age 24, he started his managerial career in Fayetteville. After Missoula and Fox Cities (where he was a player manager), he managed in Wilson, NC; Vancouver; Dallas – Fort Worth; and Atlanta (IL) before becoming a scout for the Twins after his IL team in Atlanta finished 55-93 in 1964. Realistically, that could have been the end of the line for Jack before it began.
But the new Royals franchise hired Jack to manage their Carolina League team in 1968, representing High Point / Thomasville in NC. From there, he managed in Omaha for four seasons before becoming the Royals skipper in 1973. Finally, the big leagues.
But he lasted just 2 1/2 years in Kansas City, being fired in 1975 even though he was 50-46 at the time. He spent 1976 managing for the Braves in Richmond and then drew the short straw to manage the 1977 Oakland A’s. Somehow, Jack led that bunch of castoffs, has-beens and disgruntled goats to a 26-27 record before Finley fired him and hired Bobby Winkles. The A’s totally tanked, but in 1978 Winkles led the A’s out to an unbelievably fast start (24-15) and Finley fired HIM and hired McKeon. McKeon lasted the year (guess what, the A’s tanked because, well, wouldn’t you tank if your owner fired managers for succeeding) then went to manage Denver in 1979 and then scouted for the Padres in 1980.
He became GM of the Padres for the 1981 season and began the run-up of the good-to-great 1980’s Padres teams. He then decided to step down from the GM role and manage the Padres. There was some controversy in Padre-land during his tenure (Alan Wiggins’ dismissal, the John Birchers, McKeon accused of giving his son-in-law Greg Booker a roster spot for no damn good reason) but all-in-all he won games. He then managed the Reds to better records than they deserved in the late 1990’s, and of course took over the Marlins in 2003 and led them from a dead, dull franchise to a title in 124 games.
One bit of trivia is that Jack McKeon managed against Frank Robinson in 1977 in his last game as A’s manager that season. McKeon managed against Robinson next in 2003, setting the record for the longest time between games that managers faced each other. I probably wrote that weird, but you get the point.
He was fired in 2005 from that job, mainly because players thought he was inflexible and uncommunicative.
And yet, at age 80, the 2011 Marlins think he can help right the ship. The word is that he doesn’t like to talk to players, period. Shut up, do your job, no complaining you pussies. You’re either in the lineup, or you’re not. And if you’re not, it’s because you’re not doing your goddamn job. Suck it up and play better and then I’ll write your name on the card. And don’t you dare complain if I take you out of the game. You wouldn’t be out of the game if you got guys out. But you didn’t and now you’re in the showers.
Any man who rode the buses in the Pioneer League in the 1950’s has the right to say that to today’s players. Can you imagine what the clubhouse was like in Magic Valley, Idaho?
I post this in wonder and in awe. If McKeon indeed puts on the black and teal again and writes down a lineup for the Marlins in the next few days, that will be incredible.
But I wanted to post the lineup for McKeon’s first big league managerial game. It was April 6, 1973 and the Royals traveled to California to meet the Angels who were managed by…Bobby Winkles. (Wow, the circles are so concentric here…)
Nolan Ryan beat KC 3-2. Little did anyone know that 38 years later McKeon would still be writing lineup cards. Here was his first:
Freddie Patek SS
Cookie Rojas 2B
Amos Otis CF
John Maybery 1B
Hal McRae RF
Ed Kirkpatrick DH
Lou Piniella LF
Paul Schaal 3B
Jerry May C
Steve Busby P
McKeon also used Gail Hopkins as a pinch hitter, Carl Taylor as a backup catcher, and Bruce Dal Canton and Tom Burgmeier out of the pen.
Others of note on that team: Fran Healy, Kurt Bevacqua, Steve Hovely, Frank White (51 games!), Jim Wohlford, Buck Martinez, Paul Splittorff (RIP), Gene Garber, Doug Bird, Joe Hoerner, Ken Wright, Wayne Simpson, Steve Mingori, Mark Littell, Dick Drago and Al Fitzmorris. The team that would be the dominant team of the AL West in the late 70’s were formed and shaped by McKeon.
Oh, I forgot, some 20-year old third baseman got his first taste of big league coffee in 1973, being called up in early August due to injuries then in September when Omaha’s season ended. This third baseman did OK in AAA, hitting .281 with 8 home runs. He started in the minors in 1974 before being called up for good on May 3 after Schaal finally showed his age and Frank White was stretched to play third base. For his first two years he wore #25 – it was tossed to him in 1973 and Richie Scheinblum wore #5 in 1974.
Yeah, Jack McKeon broke George Brett into the bigs.
The amazing name to me though Lou Piniella. The man who retired from managing the Cubs last season, and looked like he was 75 or so was managed in his PRIME by a man who may manage the Marlins this week.
Wow. Baseball is a weird, lovely game, isn’t it?