Let’s clear the air: Jack McKeon didn’t just get hired again by the Florida Marlins. He has been there all along. Nearly every Major League Baseball boss has a supporting cast registered as “special assistant to the owner.” Jeffrey Loria, who owns the Marlins, has five — most of them player antiques who don’t do much of anything but go to the ballpark on game day.
With the cigar-chomping McKeon it’s different. One winter a few years ago, Jack and I were at a baseball dinner in North Carolina. He had been out of baseball awhile. His phone didn’t ring any more. He didn’t have a cellphone. He was a little restless, sort of wondering why somebody in baseball didn’t need him. Then one day it did ring, and next thing you know, he was back in uniform, cigar in his mouth, managing the Florida Marlins.
Somebody had told Loria about this old warhorse sitting on his farm in North Carolina, doing nothing, going to seed. So were the Marlins, dragging their feet with a quite intelligent manager at the wheel, but losing, a young and handsome college graduate named Jeff Torborg. How Loria came up with Jack McKeon was a mystery. Loria was an arts dealer, you know, sculptures and paintings, and how he ever got into baseball was a mystery — except that he had a friend named John Henry. Henry was headed for Boston and the Red Sox and sold this little isolated franchise to Loria.
It was no “dead horse” deal. The Marlins had dispatched the Braves in the 1997 division playoffs, then beat Cleveland in the World Series. Then along came McKeon in 2003, ferreted out of the woods, breathing life into a slumbering franchise and these
The Fish take down the Yankees in another World Series. It was a miracle, so what else could the art dealer do but give McKeon one of those “special assistant to” titles to him when it came time to move him over into his own comfortable corner?
He would always be there when Loria needed some baseball savvy and in case he might need another manager on short notice again. Well, it happened. Jack’s back in uniform. Loria reached into his stash of “special assistants” when the latest manager, Edwin Rodriguez, suddenly decided to bail out and called on McKeon again. Jack’s 80 now, but ready, and you can bet the game hasn’t passed him by. The Braves’ Alex Gonzalez knows him well. He was his shortstop in the electrical season of 2003.
Just shows you, don’t put that uniform in the attic. You’ll never know when the boss may need one of his special assistants again and you’re holding the ace.
Furman Bisher is one of the deans of American sports writing. The long-time Atlanta sports journalist is a member of the Georgia and Atlanta Sports Halls of Fame and in addition to his newspaper writing as authored multiple books profiling major figures like Hank Aaron and Arnold Palmer. He writes periodical columns for the Daily Post.