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"Trader Jack" McKeon is Back With the Marlins

Edwin Rodriguez unexpectedly resigned as manager of the floundering Marlins yesterday, and the timing is brutal: Florida has only won game in the month of June. Now the team with the 7th lowest payroll in baseball will turn to their baseball version of Saint Jude – 80-year old Jack McKeon will serve as interim manager.

In doing so, McKeon becomes the second oldest manager in league history, behind only Connie Mack, who managed until 87 years of age for the Philadelphia Athletics. (Though I’m still convinced the right answer is Jim Leyland; no way he’s really under 80). Unlike the gentlemanly and reserved Mack, who hung on for 20 years as a manager after his last great teams and compiled mostly losing records, McKeon’s fiery style matured with age, winning two Manager of the Year awards in the last 12 seasons, and prevailing over the clubhouse of an unlikely World Series champion for Florida back in 2003.

At his first big league stint in Kansas City, Ewing Kauffman promoted Jack McKeon to the managerial job because he wanted a younger man–and that tells you all you need to know about how long McKeon has been weaving through baseball, with stints in four decades. McKeon left KC without anyone shedding a tear a few years later, though, after demoting the popular Charlie Lau as hitting instructor and alienating the clubhouse. He went on to manage some short seasons in Oakland over teams that Charlie Finley had dismantled of talent.

The name Trader Jack arose from his time as the San Diego Padres’ general manager. Within a few months of taking over the job in late 1980, he made plenty of tough decisions, when he let Dave Winfield walk in free agency, and traded away stars Rollie Fingers and Gene Tenace in a massive deal that brought a load of younger players, including Terry Kennedy. He swapped Ozzie Smith for Garry Templeton and Sixto Lezcano a year later. He acquired Steve Garvey when he became a free agent from the Dodgers. He was always willing to trade, and wasn’t afraid to run a star off, either.

Now, at age 80, he gets to see if he can get star shortstop Hanley Ramirez’ head right. Ramirez has been struggling mightily in 2011 and hasn’t been known for his stellar attitude, including clashing with Fredi Gonzalez last year. Managers half his age haven’t been able to push Ramirez, so why not bring in the 80-year old manager to give it a shot? Unlike some other sports or positions of leadership, the baseball manager for the rest of the season isn’t going to dictate the long term organizational philosophy, like say, hiring a 70 year old to run a college basketball program. The Marlins won’t be set back by having a 80-year old interim manager. It’s not like McKeon has ever been around for long anyway (3.5 years is his longest managerial stint in one place), so I say it’s good to have Trader Jack back, one more time.

[photo via Getty]

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