MIAMI That leadoff kid is outstanding. The home run by the little guy at second base was a bonus. And what can you say about the job the guy at first base did he was like a vacuum cleaner out there.
So said Jack McKeon after his debut as manager of the Florida Marlins.
Forgive McKeon for being a little fuzzy on details, such as the names of his players. He was home in Elon, N.C., enjoying life as a grandpa and couch potato when the Marlins called him last week seeking help.
Now, at 72, he's the oldest manager in the major leagues and third-oldest ever, behind Hall of Famers Connie Mack and Casey Stengel. No one has ever taken a managerial job at such an advanced age.
But after two years out of the game, McKeon said he's ready to go to work with baseball's second-youngest team.
"Just being around these guys and in this job makes you feel like you're 45," he said, middle age suddenly sounding like adolescence.
The Marlins fired 61-year-old youngster Jeff Torborg late Saturday and found a replacement with a tad more experience. When McKeon managed his first game with Kansas City in 1973, 20 of Florida's 25 players were not yet born.
He walked in the clubhouse for the first time Sunday, and the young team wasn't quite sure what to make of the new, old manager.
"I thought he was a new assistant," first baseman Derrek Lee said.
"He's feeling the players out, like we're feeling him out," catcher Mike Redmond said.
Once in the dugout, McKeon helped the Marlins beat Colorado 7-2. It was his 771st career victory, 48 more than the Marlins have won in their 11-year-old history.
"Jack has a great baseball mind," owner Jeffrey Loria said. "I know he's going to be successful."
Maybe Miami and McKeon will be a good match. He'll make out the lineup each day around the same time many of his neighbors are heading for the Early-Bird Special.
But even by South Florida standards, McKeon is getting up there. While he's not as old as the Everglades or Don Shula, he is older than the Orange Bowl and Shula's first game ball.
"You're only as old as you feel," McKeon said. "Age is just a number."
The Marlins' sixth manager and perhaps their most colorful, McKeon is a salty cigar chomper whose baseball career dates to 1949, when he signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates organization as a catcher. He managed at Kansas City, Oakland, San Diego and Cincinnati, worked in the front office for five teams and earned the nickname Trader Jack for his willingness to swing a deal.
When the Marlins offered a deal last week, McKeon was ready, and he signed a contract for the rest of this year. He had been out of baseball since the Reds fired him after the 2000 season.
"I didn't retire," he said with a grin. "I was just unemployed for a while."
He may not hear as well as he once did McKeon's response to several questions from the media Sunday was, "Beg pardon?" But he won't have to worry about the Marlins' tendency to turn their manager's hair gray.
The only winning season in franchise history was six years ago, and this season's high hopes were quickly deflated by a wave of injuries. Florida's patchwork rotation includes two pitchers who at this time last week had never started a big-league game.
Already nine games out of first place in the NL East, they embarked Monday on a 12-game trip, their longest of the season.
"We have to play better than we've been playing," third baseman Mike Lowell said. "Are we going to win 17 out of 20? I don't know."
Neither does McKeon, but he thinks the Marlins can play better than they've played thus far. He formed that opinion subscribing to a baseball satellite package up in Elon.
"I watch four or five games a night, and I like the Marlins for some reason," he said. "I used to watch them quite a bit. I got an opportunity to see a lot of young players and see the progress they've made from a couple of years ago or the lack of progress."
McKeon said he'll seek suggestions from Marlins executive Tony Perez, the team's announcers and even the batboys. He wants to make the most of Florida's excellent speed, and he said there's enough pitching depth to ride out the injuries.
Most of all, McKeon said, he wants his players to relax and have fun.
"It looks like some of these guys are trying to hit three-run homers with nobody on base," he said.
The Marlins play three games early this week in San Diego, where McKeon managed in 1988-90. They conclude their trip next week in Cincinnati, where he managed from 1997 to 2000.
Then he'll be back in Miami, just another septuagenarian Florida transplant. The twist is that he's coming to work.
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