09/09/11 6:52 PM EST
McKeon proves age is just a number
By Terence Moore / MLB.com
It has much to do with the attendance-challenged Marlins opening a new ballpark in 2012. They need a big splash, preferably one that is loud, colorful and Hispanic, since South Florida is famously huge regarding that demographic. Somebody such as -- oh, say -- Ozzie Guillen, who currently works for the Chicago White Sox.
That said, if McKeon wants to return to the Marlins next season, and if team officials want such a thing, let the rejoicing begin from all of the 80-something folks across the universe.
Now back to reality, where McKeon is finished as a manager after this season, but he shouldn't be. He remains sharp despite the Marlins' free fall in the National League East standings. Entering Friday's action, they had the third-worst record in the NL at 63-79. They were 30 games behind the Philadelphia Phillies in their division, and they were hinting of producing another ugly losing streak.
But here's the thing: The combination of John McGraw, Earl Weaver, Sparky Anderson and even McKeon in their primes wouldn't have changed the fate of this Florida bunch.
Blame it on injuries and average talent.
You can't blame it on McKeon. When Edwin Rodriguez resigned as manager on June 20, the Marlins already had their various issues, which is why Marlins officials went back to the future. They hired McKeon, who had been a manager in the Major Leagues forever, but not in six years.
And did I mention McKeon was 80?
In case you're wondering, McKeon doesn't act that way. Sure, he'll mangle a name or three, and he'll give you the impression that he doesn't know the difference between Twitter and an iPhone. But he always has done those things. There also is a theory that he often does them on purpose, just to make you underestimate his intellect.
The thing is, you just know McKeon still gets it mentally since he hasn't stopped playing games with opposing pitchers.
When a Marlins runner is on third base, McKeon will shout from the dugout, "Look for the ball in the dirt." The idea is for McKeon to get the pitcher so conscious of the opposing manager's words that the pitcher begins to elevate his pitches in the strike zone.
Advantage, Marlins hitters.
You know, theoretically.
McKeon's psyche games also apply to his players, and he does it with a sense of humor. Since they've struggled much of the year at the plate with runners in scoring position, he'll yell to his batters, "Nobody on base. Nobody on base." Plus, for much of the season, the Marlins have ranked among baseball's best teams in road victories, but they've struggled at home. So McKeon likes to say around the clubhouse, "We have to start wearing our road uniforms at home."
He is strategically sound, too. Among his first moves after taking over the Marlins this summer was to put struggling star Hanley Ramirez in the cleanup spot. Ramirez was hitting .198 at the time. From there, he soared at the plate -- until he got hurt.
When Ramirez plays, the Marlins are 50-39. When he doesn't, they are 12-39, and he has been out since early August with a shoulder problem.
Ace pitcher Josh Johnson also injured his shoulder, and that was in early May. Like Ramirez, Johnson is out for the season. If you add their aches and pains to a bunch of other Marlins -- along with the fact that these aren't the Marlins of Gary Sheffield, Kevin Brown and Bobby Bonilla -- McKeon didn't have a chance of making this work.
Speaking of "chance," McKeon was given one by Marlins officials despite his senior status for a couple of decades.
Good. There shouldn't be such a thing as age discrimination in society, and that includes sports. If a rather (ahem) seasoned person still has the energy, the knowledge and the desire to own, play, officiate, coach, manage or make roster decisions for a franchise, so be it.
Joe Paterno comes to mind at 84. Despite getting accidentally whacked on the sidelines by his own football players in recent years along the way to a broken leg, a damaged hip and a bum shoulder, Penn State officials keep him around. They like him, and that's all that matters.
When Memphis Grizzlies officials needed a jolt nearly a decade ago, they hired Hubie Brown.
He was 69. He also was effective in the aftermath.
The same was true of Marv Levy, who was in his late 60s during the four-year run of his Buffalo Bills to Super Bowls.
As for baseball, there was Casey Stengel, who managed the New York Yankees to eight world championships. Even though he partially was fired by the Yankees in 1960 for having the audacity to turn 70 during the season (along with losing the World Series to the Pittsburgh Pirates), he was hired two years later by the New York Mets for a four-season run.
More prominently, there was Connie Mack, who managed the Philadelphia Athletics for 50 years. He retired at 87. It didn't hurt his longevity as manager that he also owned the team, but the point is the same.
Mack was wanted by somebody -- if only by himself.
Marlins officials wanted McKeon as their manager, or at least they did earlier this season. Prior to his return to a Marlins team he managed from 2003-05 -- which included an NL Manager of the Year Award and a World Series championship ring -- he enjoyed semi-retirement in Elon, N.C. He was a special assistant to Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria, which basically meant, when he wasn't scouting Minor League players, he was home smoking his ever-present cigars and playing with his dog, Yogi.
This isn't to say McKeon wasn't highly baseball active.
He was. I called him several times during the last two years before his latest return to the Marlins, and I was shocked by how much he knew about current trends, players and happenings throughout the game. So combined with the fact that McKeon remained physically fit for his age, I shrugged when the Marlins brought him back.
Age? It's just a state of mind.
If you don't mind, it doesn't matter.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @TMooreSports. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.