Good things really do come to those who waitjust
ask Jack McKeon. After spending more than 50 years in baseball, McKeon was
as far away from the game as hed ever been in the spring of 2003,
doing all the things a 72-year-old grandfather does in quiet Elon, North
Carolina. Though he knew he could still manage in the big leagueshaving
been named National League Manager of the Year as recently as 1999he
wasnt exactly expecting any offers, particularly with the current
season barely out of its first month.
But the proverbial phone did ring one day, and on May 11, McKeon was hired to replace Jeff Torborg as manager of the Florida Marlins. The fact that Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria was willing to take a chance on McKeon and make him the third-oldest manager in major league history was enough of a feel-good story on its own, but what happened over the course of the next five and a half months was truly remarkable.
The cigar-puffing, old-school McKeon not only righted the underachieving young Marlins ship, he guided it straight to glory. The self-described "seasoned citizen" led his team into the postseason as the National League wild-cardit was McKeons first postseason ever as a managerand the Marlins wild ride didnt end until theyd stunned the New York Yankees to capture the World Series championship.
The story of the 2003 Marlins is one of the more memorable in recent baseball history, and McKeons personal account of his lifetime journey to baseballs promised land is a riveting and oftentimes hilarious saga. As the preeminent storyteller in baseball, his recollections as a player/manager in the minor leagues during the games golden age are priceless. He eventually joined the small fraternity of major league managers never to have played in the big leagues, where he had some memorable relationships with such colorful owners as Charlie Finley and Marge Schott. It was as a freewheeling, multiplayer-dealing general manager that he earned the nickname "Trader Jack," and dispatching his own son-in-law was among his most famous transactions.
McKeon built his legend by doing things his way, and he tells his remarkable story with the same reckless abandon. Temporarily cast aside after five memorable decades, he made the most of his next opportunity. But dont think for a minute that the story ends there becausenow at the age of 74hes just getting started.