For short-term fix, McKeon passes test of time
Sure, Jack McKeon is a managerial retread. But turning around the Marlins proves he knows what he's doing.
"We didn't lose. We just ran out of time."
-- attributed to various basketball and football coaches
Baseball's different; you can't run out of time. Not in a game.
You can run out of time in a career, though. And it might be said of Jack McKeon that he won't not manage a World Series winner; he's just going to run out of time.
McKeon's currently managing in his 13th season. That's not a lot of seasons, really, but McKeon probably doesn't have a lot of seasons left. See, he's 72 years old, and managing has traditionally been a middle-aged man's game. I know that Americans are staying active and healthy longer than ever before, but we've not yet reached the point where 72 is considered anything but ... well, old. Jack McKeon is an old man.
Which isn't to say he's not still one hell of a manager. McKeon's managing his fifth team, and every team he's managed has improved under his guidance.
Winkles remained on the job in 1978, and after 39 games the A's were sitting in first place with a 24-15 mark ... when Winkles quit. McKeon was re-hired, and the A's went into the tank, finishing the season at 69-93 (including 45-78 under McKeon).
The Reds finished second again in 2000, but their record fell to 85-77 and McKeon was fired in favor of Bob Boone (who managed the Reds to a sterling 66-96 mark in 2001).
How does McKeon do it?
I don't think there's any magical formula, and it's certainly true that most teams do better when a new manager is appointed.
Why? Two obvious reasons.
One, managers are generally fired when a team is thought to be under-performing, and most under-performing teams will turn around no matter who's managing.
And two, when a new manager is hired, often he's hired specifically because he's got a different style than the old manager. And it's quite likely that players respond, at least initially, to a different style.
Still, when somebody does something not once, not twice, but five times, you have to wonder if maybe there's actually something there. And this makes five times for Jack McKeon.
Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria has often been maligned, and with good reason. It's not obvious how much credit he deserves for hiring McKeon, because the last time he hired a retread manager (Jeff Torborg), it didn't exactly work brilliantly. But you do have to give Loria and Marlins president David Samson credit for something: this time, they hired the right retread.
Senior writer Rob Neyer writes four columns per week during the baseball season. His new book, "Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Lineups," has just been published by Fireside. For more information about the book, visit Rob's Web site.