Today the Marlins shocked the baseball world by naming 80 year-old Jack McKeon as interim manager. He is replacing the departing Edwin Rodriguez who has resigned after a promising start to the campaign has careened off of a cliff. While McKeon’s resume is beyond repute, it is exceedingly difficult to see this appointment ending in anything other than failure.
The obvious questions largely stem from the demands of being a Major League manager and whether a man of McKeon’s age can handle the demands of the job. These are valid questions to be sure. Managers are required to work long hours and travel extensively. As healthy and spritely as McKeon apparently is it is impossible to forcast how he will hold up physically over the coming weeks and months. He is the second oldest manager in Major League history behind Connie Mack who owned the team and in his later years was manager in name only as his coaches largely assumed control of the club.
McKeon’s track record would suggest that he should be able to gain the respect of the Marlins clubhouse. His experience and positive outlook was a key catalyst in turning around the Marlins 2003 campaign. It’s possible that management sees parallels and thinks that McKeon may be able to work the same magic. The difference is that in 2003 McKeon was only three years removed from a successful stint running the Reds and four years removed from winning Manager of the Year. Now he is eight years removed from leading the Marlins to the World Series in 2003 and six years removed from managing. Few of his key players were even in the majors back then.
Back in 2003 there were snickers about McKeon’s appointment due to his age back then. At least it was plausible that the then 73 year old might get the job permanently if he was successful in his interim stewardship. Conversely it seems impossible to think that in 2011 an 80 year old Jack McKeon will be managing the Marlins next year. What the club has done is accepted the resignation of one manager and replaced him with a lame duck. How is he supposed to command the respect of his clubhouse when everybody knows he is not long for the job?
Commanding that respect will be the most difficult tack McKeon will face. His lame duck status along with the fact he is two to three generations older than the players he will be managing gives the players ample reason not to listen to him. All to often when players are given excuses they are particularly quick to take them.
What the Marlins need to do is follow the example of the Pirates. The Pirates had gone through several non-descript managers. Competent baseball men to be sure, but not the type of guys with the ego to impose their will on their players. Edwin Rodriguez and his predecessor Fredi Gonzalez would both comfortably fall into that category. In Clint Hurdle, the Pirates have appointed a manager with the charisma to change the mood of the clubhouse and the organization. The Pirates flirtation with a winning record may well prove to be fleeting but this is still the course the Marlins should take. Say what you will about Joe Girardi and his ever present binder, but he was NL Manager of the Year with the Marlins and he was the last manager the club had with a strong personality.
If they could lure Bobby Valentine away from ESPN he would be the ideal choice. If nothing else he would stamp his authority on that club. He has the track record and ego to stand up to Hanley Ramirez if anybody can. Failing that the Marlins should find a candidate with experience managing in the Major Leagues after their last three hirings were all managers who had never managed in the Major Leagues. And by Major League experience, not somebody so experienced that they passed retirement age during the Clinton demonstration.