Columns & Blogs

Baseball could use more blasts from the past like McKeon

If you are an "old school" baseball fan, you have to love this:

When Jack McKeon became only the second 80-year-old manager in baseball history Monday, his first move was to scratch the Florida Marlins' best player from his lineup card.

McKeon said that in watching Sunday's game on TV at his home in Elon, N.C., he didn't like the way Hanley Ramirez "ran the bases" in a 2-1 loss to Tampa Bay. But others said that McKeon benched the shortstop because he was late for the manager's first team meeting Monday afternoon.

Take your choice of reasons, but the move sent a clear message to Ramirez and his Marlins teammates: they had better play by McKeon's rules, or else.

How refreshing in this day of "Player's Managers," who worry more about being loved than doing what is proper in establishing leadership and discipline.

What a contrast to Boston's Terry Francona, who has been nicknamed "Cuddles" by the Red Sox fans for the way he babies his players (four days off for a tummy ache, disabled list for a back pain, country club atmosphere in spring training.) Yes, Francona is winning in Boston, but with the second highest payroll ($161 million) in baseball, how he could he not?

If McKeon can turn things around in Miami he will be doing it with a much less talented roster saddled with a salary total $101 million below that of the Red Sox.

As interim manager, McKeon took over a last-place team that had lost 11 in a row and 18 of its last 19 games before beating the Los Angeles Angels, 5-2, Tuesday night. He cautioned, as he did when the Marlins hired him for the first time eight years ago, that he is "not a miracle worker."

Miracle or not, that 2003 team won the World Series, beating the New York Yankees, four games to two. Which gives McKeon the same number of championship rings as another former "Player's Manager," Atlanta's Bobby Cox. Incidentally, McKeon has managed 15 years in the majors, while Cox had 29.

Tuesday night, McKeon shook things up, putting Ramirez, who is hitting only .200, in the cleanup spot for the first time in his career. The shortstop responded with two singles, his first multi-hit game since May 21.

"We've got to find a way to get him going," McKeon told the Miami Herald. "I had a nice chat with him today. I like what I've seen of his attitude."

Other Marlins said they welcomed McKeon's old-school approach.

"I think it is going to have a great influence," reliever Brian Sanchez said. "He's hard-nosed. He's not going to take anybody's (crud). If you want to play and do the right things, he's going to play you. And if not, he's not."

McKeon, who walks 4 miles a day, insists age is not a factor. Only Connie Mack, who was 87 in his last season as manager of the Philadelphia Athletics in 1950, was older.

"Eighty doesn't mean a thing," McKeon told the media Tuesday as he took a puff on his cigar. "I'm not 80. The birth certificate says that, but I'm not 80."

Now that's my kind of guy.

I'm hoping McKeon can start a trend. Maybe it's not too late for other old-time, butt-kicking managers like Earl Weaver, 80, and Whitey Herzog, 79, to make a comeback.