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McKeon adjusting to his new role as Special Advisor


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MIAMI -- From his back porch in Elon, N.C., Jack McKeon's voice is still being heard by the Marlins.

 

The witty story-telling former Marlins manager is adjusting to his new title of special adviser to team owner Jeffrey Loria.

 

What specifically are his duties?

 

"I have no idea," McKeon says with a laugh.

 

Fancy titles never meant much to McKeon, a pragmatic realist who has never been impressed by fluff. The cigar-smoking "seasoned citizen," as he calls himself, is about bottom lines. In his eyes, you either cut it or you don't. And if you don't, you better find a way to do so or else you won't survive very long in the sometimes cold world of professional baseball.

 

With more than 50 years of pro ball under his belt, McKeon's opinions remain valued. That's why he remains in constant contact with the Marlins front office, fielding calls from Loria and general manager Admin Beinfest.

 

"They call me all the time. I talk to Jeffrey and Admin all the time," McKeon said.

 

Retired as a manager once again, McKeon has gone back to a simple life at his home in Elon. Since stepping down after the Marlins season ended on Oct. 2, McKeon rides his tractor, works out at the local YMCA and watches his grandchildren play sports.

 

He commonly sits on the back porch, fielding phone calls, while puffing on a his cigar of choice, Padron.

 

"I'm doing the same things I was doing before I came to Florida, working out, watching ballgames," he said in a recent phone interview.

 

With his wife, Carol, within ear shot of his conversation, McKeon quips: "I'm doing all the domestic chores for my wife. I'm driving her crazy. I told her the other day, 'I guess I better start looking for a job.'"

 

On Nov. 23, McKeon turns 75, and he remains as active as ever.

 

He has gone down this road before. Many believed his managerial days were over when he was dismissed by the Reds in 2000. But three years later, literally out of the blue, the Marlins lured him out of retirement.

 

On May 11, 2003, at the age of 72, McKeon was hired by the Marlins and he proceeded to lead one of the most improbable turnaround stories in baseball history. The Marlins rallied from a season-low mark of 10-games under .500 to win the World Series.

 

McKeon stepped away after the Marlins went through a disappointing 83-79 campaign. He didn't have much say in the hiring of Joe Girardi as his replacement.

 

"They have their hands full right now, hiring the manager and the coaches, I didn't want to really bother them," he said.

 

Even though the Marlins have fallen short of postseason aspirations the past two seasons, McKeon is the only manager in club history to lead the franchise to three straight winning seasons.

 

He is the club's all-time winningest manager with a 241-207 record, and overall as a big league manager, he is 1,011-940.

 

When he retired on Oct. 2, the only managers to stick around longer were Hall of Famers Connie Mack (88) and Casey Stengel (75).

 

On the verge of turning 75 himself, McKeon hasn't ruled out matching Stengel as the second oldest manager in MLB history.

 

"I'm looking at it the same way as I did before," McKeon said. "I'm taking it easy here, staying ready. I'm still full of energy. If anybody decides they want to call me, I'll listen."

 

Over the next few months, McKeon expects to do some motivational speaking. He is lining up a few dates in Florida.

 

In his conversations with Loria and Beinfest, he has spoken more in general terms. He says he doesn't know which direction the club is headed. With a stalled stadium deal, and South Florida taking an economic hit from Hurricane Wilma, the Marlins are going through an even tougher budget crunch.

 

"I haven't really gotten into that," McKeon said of projected payroll specifics. "I'm not going to muddy the waters, they have a decision to make on which way they are going to go. They have to wait and see what the budget is going to be."

 

The Marlins have been able to craft competitive teams, and one championship squad, with minimal resources. McKeon is impressed with Loria's desire to win.

 

"He's a very passionate guy," McKeon said. "He wants to build a legacy down there and build a winning tradition. I was happy to be able to start three straight years of winning. I'd like to see for his sake, them keep it going."

 

A former general manager himself, McKeon has had an eye for seeing young talent. The Marlins are expected to give a number of their Minor League prospects a shot.

 

Infusing young talent played a huge role for the Marlins in 2003 when they brought up Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis.

 

McKeon points out the Astros were able to reach the World Series by mixing in younger players like Jason Lane.

 

"First of all, you've got to have some good, young prospects coming up," McKeon said on putting together a winning formula. "You've got to have a good stock of young prospects available, either to use them or trade them off for good players. Right now, I don't know what they've got. We'll wait and see in Spring Training.

 

"We saw a number of them come up the past couple of years. But none of them have been able to be the Cabrera or Willis type guy. That's what you've got to have. You look at Houston. You see them come up with Lane and a couple of pitchers come up there. You've got them coming in where they can blend in with your lineup. That's what you've got to have."

 

With Cabrera established as an All-Star and veterans like Paul Lo Duca and Luis Castillo expected to return in 2006, McKeon sees this as the right time for the Marlins to filter in new players.

 

"When you have a nucleus like we have, that's the time to throw them in there, to get the experience while they are being protected by the veteran players," McKeon said. "I've always liked young guys. Throw them in there when you've got good ones."

 

http://florida.marlins.mlb.com/NASApp/mlb/...t=.jsp&c_id=fla

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