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Reds thrilled McKeon has new job

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Credit: Chris Haft / MLB.com


05/11/2003 4:57 PM ET
Reds thrilled McKeon has new job
By Chris Haft / MLB.com


CINCINNATI -- Florida Marlins players shouldn't have to worry about a lot of meddling, though they may hear some unusual expressions coming from the corner of the dugout.

In the Reds' minds, that's what can be expected from Jack McKeon, who was named Sunday to replace Jeff Torborg as manager of the Florida Marlins. McKeon managed Cincinnati from 1997-2000, compiling a 291-259 record.

"One thing about Jack, he lets you go out and play," first baseman Sean Casey said. "He lets you do your thing, make your mistakes, and he talks to you when he has to. He's very supportive. It means a lot to ballplayers when you know your manager supports you. So I'm sure the players in Florida will appreciate that."

"He doesn't interfere that much. He looks at you like you're a grownup and a Major League player," right-hander Scott Williamson said.

Casey, who regularly exchanges phone calls with McKeon, dismissed the issue of the 72-year-old's age.

"I think he still has some gas left in that tank," Casey said. "I talked to him a few days ago and he said he was in the best shape of his life. Then all of a sudden, he's the manager of the Marlins. I couldn't believe it."

Williamson, the Reds' closer, was voted National League Rookie of the Year in 1999, the same season McKeon led the Reds to a 96-67 record and earned NL Manager of the Year honors. Naturally, Williamson attributes much of his success to McKeon.

"He gave me an opportunity to play in the big leagues, and he helped me win the Rookie of the Year award and make the All-Star team," Williamson said. "And he gave me a chance to start [in 2000]."

Skeptics think McKeon relied on Williamson too heavily, leading to the reliever's struggles with injuries early in his career.

"A lot of people say he misused me. At times I thought so, but it had its plusses and minuses," Williamson said. "The downfall was, I had a major case of tendinitis at the end of that [1999] season. But I can't say anything negative about him. He never did anything to me. We won 96 games, and we had a good team. I don't have any beef with him."

One prominent Red observed that McKeon took his hands-off policy to an extreme.

"I had him for a year and he didn't say anything to me," center fielder Ken Griffey Jr. said.

Third baseman Aaron Boone, another Red who began establishing himself in the Majors during McKeon's tenure, cited his former skipper's reputation for thriving with developing teams.

"He had a lot of success coming in here with a young team, and I think [the Marlins], for the most part, have a young team," Boone said. "The guys in charge there probably think he's the guy for them. I hope they do well. I'm sure he's excited."

Boone recalled that McKeon got excited during games, too. He'll expect more of the same from McKeon when the Marlins visit Great American Ball Park for a weekend series May 23-25.

"I'll be listening for some of his lines -- 'Punch a hole in it.' He'd say that to umpires," Boone recalled. "Or a guy will be bunting, the third baseman will be charging and he'll say, 'Hey, pick yourself up a set of teeth.' "

As with most departing managers, when the Reds declined to renew McKeon's contract after a second-place, 85-77 finish in 2000, he had his share of detractors. Shortstop Barry Larkin, one player who shared a frosty relationship with McKeon, had little to say about Sunday's news.

"Good for him," Larkin said with a knowing smile.

But the clubhouse reaction overall indicated that McKeon will have plenty of well-wishers when the Reds and Marlins meet.

"Jack won while he was here," right-hander Danny Graves said. "I have nothing against him. Maybe some people do, but he just let us go out there and play."


Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.
 

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