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It wasn't so long ago that four celebrated veteran managers walked off into the sunset, shaking all cares and business from their age and conferring them on younger strengths, so that they, unburdened... okay, enough with the King Lear.

Joe Torre (70 years old, 13 first place finishes, 4 WS titles), Bobby Cox (69 years old, 15 first place finishes, 1 WS title), Lou Piniella (67 years old, 6 first place finishes, 1 WS title) and Cito Gaston (66 years old, 4 first place finishes, 2 WS titles) all turned their teams over to younger men.  Only one of the new boys (Fredi Gonzalez in Atlanta) had ever managed a full season in the majors. Two of them - John Farrell and Don Mattingly - had never managed anywhere before.

The torch, passing. Right? The oldest manager still standing was Charlie Manuel in Philadelphia, and while Charlie certainly looks like an old-timer, he didn't actually get his first chance to manage in the majors until 2000. Jim Leyland and Tony LaRussa were the last men remaining who had managed in the majors back in the 1980s. Just as Cox and Torre were the last we would ever see who had managed way, way back in the 1970s. Until this week's strange tidings.

The season's first managerial move actually came in the AL West, where Bob Melvin took over in Oakland once Bob Geren finished the task of completely losing any remaining support in the clubhouse. Working for Billy Beane is a tough gig. For one thing, Billy can be a little exciteable. He also seems to think that his manager should run the team Beane's way. This is difficult for the manager, who has to be thinking - well, there's Billy's way, or there's my way. I think my way is better, actually. But I guess I have to do it Billy's way. Of course if I do it Billy's way and lose... Billy is going to fire me. There are only 30 of these jobs, right?

But the real excitement has been in the NL East.

Jim Riggleman has just committed career suicide - I assume he knows this, so I hope he had a pretty good reason. There was clearly a severe lack of communication between the field manager and the general manager, which makes the choice of Dave Johnson as Riggleman's replacement especially interesting. Johnson, of course, has a long history of quarreling with his front office. (Granted, his employers have included Marge Schott and Peter Angelos, so this may represent something of a badge of honour.) But Johnson has never been famous for his skills as a communicator, with either his bosses or his players.

On the other hand, Johnson has won everywhere he's gone, and the Nationals have a lot of exciting young players.  Johnson's most celebrated successes as a manager came with the Mets teams of the 1980s, which featured some very, very young players. We all think first of Gooden and Strawberry, of course, and mere babes they were. But Sid Fernandez, Ron Darling, Lenny Dykstra, Wally Backman, Howard Johnson, Rick Aguilera, Kevin Mitchell were all between the ages of 21 and 24 when Johnson stuck them into the lineup.

Of course, with the sole exception of a 20 year old Adrian Beltre, Johnson didn't do anything even remotely like that in Cincinnati, Baltimore, or Los Angeles, although he was fairly successful in all three stops. Granted, those teams didn't actually have any interesting young players. Not a one. One also looks at how some of those young Mets developed, and thinks that they might have been better served with someone capable of providing a little more professional (and personal) guidance than it's in Johnson's nature to provide. That's not really his job, of course. But still...

In some ways, the situation in south Florida is even more interesting. And that's without wondering about whether Lebron will ever bother to develop some low-post skills. Through the first two months of the season, things were going just swimmingly for the young Marlins. (Marlins, swimmingly... okay. Sorry about that.)They had a 31-22 record, which put them just two games behind the mighty Phillies, and was good enough to have them a couple of games in front of Atlanta and Milwaukee in the wild card hunt. They'd achieved this with almost no contribution whatsoever from Hanley Ramirez. Hanley is both the face of the franchise (the Marlins' entire marketing campaign, and outreach to Florida's sizeable Latino community, is built around Ramirez.) Hanley is also the man widely regarded as responsible for the demise the previous year of manager Fredi Gonzalez. But he'd had nothing to do with anything in 2011. He was hitting just .210/.306/.309 when he was injured at the end of May. So he missed much of what happened next...

First... the wheels fell off. The Marlins suddenly lost eight games in a row, to Arizona, Milwaukee, and Atlanta before finally beating the D-Backs on June 10 to stop their skid.

Then the engine fell completely to pieces, and fell through the chassis to the ground below. The Marlins lost eleven games in a row, to Arizona, Philadelphia, Tampa Bay, and the Angels. Along the way, manager Rodriguez voluntarily walked the plank (the steering wheel had turned to dust in his hands! Pound that metaphor, until it begs for mercy!) - and the Marlins summoned, as his replacement...

Trader Jack.

And once again - and surely this will be the last time - we'll have a manager who was actually running a team way back in the 1970s. And running one extremely well.

Trader Jack is 80 years old, by the way.

But so what, I say! It means he's almost ten years younger than Red Schoendienst, whom we all saw hitting fungoes this weekend in a Cardinals uniform. As it happens, Schoendienst was managing the Cardinals back in 1973, when McKeon made his mangerial debut. Who were some of the other active managers when McKeon's managerial career began? Billy Martin. Danny Murtaugh. Chuck Tanner. Walter Alston. None of whom are active now, to say the least.

I mean - gosh! Willie Mays was still playing, and Leo Durocher was still managing when Jack McKeon came on the scene. That's just too cool to be true...

McKeon's first season in the dugout, way back in 1973, saw him go 88-74 with the Kansas City Royals - who were but a fifth year expansion club. They weren't really that good, of course, and fell back to 77 wins the following year. They fired him the following season, with the Royals at 50-46, and sitting a rather distant second to the still mighty A's (They replaced McKeon with a slightly younger man - Whitey Herzog.)

McKeon caught on with the post free agency A's for a couple of desultory partial seasons, before moving on to San Diego as the general manager in 1980. It was here that the legend of Trader Jack was built. The Padres had come into existence the same year as the Royals (and Expos and Pilots/Brewers) and had been by far the worst of the four new teams. They'd had exactly one winning season in their history. That was 1978 when the ancient-even-then Gaylord Perry went 21-6, helping the team to an 84-78 mark. Pretty well all the best players on that team - with one exception - were old guys like Perry, brought on board as free agents - Gene Tenace, Rollie Fingers, Oscar Gamble. When McKeon came aboard in mid-1990, Tenace and Fingers will still around, and still effective. But they'd been joined by a whole host of other Older Dudes - Dave Cash, Willie Montanez, Rick Wise, Aurelio Rodriguez. Furthermore, for reasons that still surpass all human understanding, the team was being managed on the field by their longtime broadcaster, the old Yankee second baseman Jerry Coleman. Coleman is a broadcasting legend, if not necessarily for the right reasons, and a total failure as a manager.

And their best young player? That was Dave Winfield, who would file for free agency at the end of the season and soon afterwards sign the biggest contract in the history of the universe. With the Yankees, who else.

Oh, it was a mess!

McKeon's approach, in the beginning was simple. He just got rid of all the old guys. Every one of them. He picked up Terry Kennedy, a promising young catcher trapped behind Ted Simmons in St Louis (part of a big trade that sent Tenace and Fingers the other way.) A deal with the Yankees brought him a centre fielder (Ruppert Jones), a left fielder (Joe Lefebvre) and a starting pitcher (Tim Lollar.) None of the new guys was older than 25. Neither were the three new guys who took over at three of the infield positions - Broderick Perkins, Juan Bonilla, and Luis Salazar - where they teamed up with another young infielder, shortstop Ozzie Smith.

Not all of these guys turned out to be great players. Or good players. They didn't even all turn out to be adequate. But what the hell. It still beats going 74-88 with old, expensive guys. Who you already know will never be good again...

After the 1981 season, McKeon traded his shortstop Ozzie Smith - already regarded as a defensive wizard, but a player who had yet to hit a lick - for an even younger talent.  Garry Templeton, far more accomplished with the bat than Smith, but a player with serious attitude problems who had made the mistake of crossing Whitey Herzog. The same trade also brought Sixto Lezcano to San Diego.  Lezcano would not age well, but at the time he was still only 28 and was still a terrific two-way player. McKeon put all this young talent in the hands of the one modern manager who has been more willing than almost any other to give a young player a chance - the old grump himself, Dick Williams.

The young pitchers - Lollar, Andy Hawkins, Eric Show, Dave Dravecky - began to develop. They brought an old free agent from a winning organization (Steve Garvey) to play first base. The next year, they brought in another old free agent from a winning organization (Graig Nettles) to play third base. And presto - by 1984, there they were, in the World Series...

It couldn't last. Dick Williams is one of the greatest judges of talent the game has ever seen. He's also a terminal grouch, who alienates everyone around him, sooner rather than later. He will lose his clubhouse. His players will not just tune him out, they will begin to actively resist him. At which point, you have to get rid of him. McKeon gave a couple of well regarded young managerial prospects an opportunity - Steve Boros and Larry Bowa - both of whom proved that managerial prospects are just like playing prospects - they don't always turn out the way you hope they will. In 1988, McKeon righted the ship (the Padres were off to a 16--30 start) by going down into the dugout himself to replace Bowa. They ended up winning 83 games that year, and 89 games the next. But they had a disappointing year in 1990. McKeon turned over the the managing job to Greg Riddoch halfway through the year, and was fired shortly before the season ended.

By now, Trader Jack was in his early 60s. He moved on to Cincinnati, working as a consultant and special assistant to the GM. When Ray Knight, anointed as the Reds' next manager by Marge Schott while the despised (by Schott) Davey Johnson was still actually on the job (and had the team in first place!) flamed out as the manager in July 1997, McKeon stepped in. His Reds won 99 games in 1999, despite a mediocre year from their best player (Barry Larkin). McKeon was the NL Manager of the Year. They won 85 games the following year despite the fact that they had no pitching whatsoever (their top starter, the only guy to win in double figures, was the immortal Steve Parris. And he went 12-17.) The Reds let him go anyway - hey, he was 70 years old and they'd been grooming Bob Boone to take over.

McKeon was in retirement, playing with his grandchildren when the Marlins came calling in May 2003. The team was off to a 16-22 start, and part of the problem was that the pitchers were dropping like flies. A.J. Burnett had been lost for the year to Tommy John surgery, Mark Redman and Josh Beckett had just hit the disbaled list. The manager (Jeff Torborg) and the pitching coach (Brad Arnsberg) both walked the plank. The Marlins lost 7 of their first 10 games under McKeon, but one of those victories was the first major league win for a 21 year southpaw named Dontrelle Willis. Brad Penny and Carl Pavano kept the rotation afloat. Mike Lowell was having a tremendous season through the end of August, when he was hit by a pitch and broke his hand. Luckily, a 20 year old third baseman named Miguel Cabrera had already joined the team in June (McKeon had been playing him regularly in left field). Beckett returned in July, went 7-5 the rest of the way, and had a memorable post-season.

Well, I sure remember it.

And Trader Jack had his championship.

The Marlins, as is their wont, broke up the team, and Jack eased into retirement after a couple of 83-79 seasons. Presumably for the last time.

Except by now, his grandkids must be all grown up. So why not?
Weird Scenes in the NL East | 19 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
TamRa - Monday, June 27 2011 @ 05:10 AM EDT (#237570) #
I've always had a soft spot for Davy Johnson - I'd have welcomed him here more than once when the Jays had an opening. I'm now casually rooting for the Nats...

Magpie - Monday, June 27 2011 @ 06:20 AM EDT (#237571) #
Just the mention of Leo Durocher - whose managerial career overlaps with McKeon's - got me curious about Leo's first days in the majors. That takes us all the way back in 1925. Leo made his debut (as a pinch-hitter, of all things) on the second last day of the season. The Yankees were losing 7-0 when Durocher batted for the pitcher in the top of the eighth inning and flied out.

He also appeared in the season finale the very next day, and this boxscore simply fascinates me! The Yankees were trailing 8-7 heading for the bottom of the ninth, but they scored two runs off Lefty Grove (who'd come on to pitch the final inning) for the walk-off victory. Durocher, pinch running for Ben Pascahl (who had batted for the pitcher and hit a single) scored one of the two runs.

But I can't figure out the inning. Grove pitched to four batters, recording two outs and allowing two hits and two runs. One of the runs was unearned. The Yankees sent 38 men to the plate, which suggests that the last batter was Mark Koenig - that Grove faced Bengough (1-4, did not score), Paschal (1-1, Durocher pinch ran and scored), Combs (2-5, scored twice and drove in 1), and Koenig, who went 1-5 on the day, and did not drive in a run.

How did those two runs score? It looks like Bengough made an out, Paschal singled, Combs singled - scoring Durocher? - and Koening made an out - scoring Combs? There was no sac fly stat recorded in 1925, so the game certainly could have ended on a flyout to the outfield. But why was one of the runs unearned? Probably because of a defensive miscue that advanced the runners. The A's did make one error in the game. However, that error was made by right fielder Walt Frecnh, who came out of the game around the fifth or sixth inning. A passed ball? Passed balls were being recorded in 1925, and the boxscore doesn't charge catcher Cy Perkins with one. Nor is Grove recorded as having thrown a wild pitch or committing a balk. The Yankees didn't steal any bases. How did Durocher get from first to home because of the Combs at bat (which was probably a single) and how did Combs get from first to home because of the Koening at bat (which was probably an out?).

The game was played 86 years ago, in front of a crowd listed as 1,000. I wonder if we'll ever find out what happened...
Mick Doherty - Monday, June 27 2011 @ 10:00 AM EDT (#237582) #
Last game of the season, final inning, nothing on the line? Odds are, "what happened" was an innatnetive or sloppy scorekeeping error ...
Mike Green - Monday, June 27 2011 @ 10:10 AM EDT (#237583) #
Speaking of weird scenes, for someone who grew up in the 60s, the idea that the Los Angeles Dodgers could go into bankruptcy seems as unlikely as GM going down.  Oh it any coincidence that the federal agency that looks after financial industry bailout money is called "TARP"? 

Back to baseball.  The Phillies do list left quite a bit, so it would be nice to have Brett Cecil up to pitch one of the games after Romero. 
Chuck - Monday, June 27 2011 @ 11:02 AM EDT (#237586) #

The Phillies do list left quite a bit, so it would be nice to have Brett Cecil up to pitch one of the games after Romero. 

If this were Strat-O-Matic, you'd send Dotel down for the series and bring up John Candelaria or Jesse Orosco or someone of that ilk. Talk about a lineup that just screams for loogies.


Mylegacy - Monday, June 27 2011 @ 11:42 AM EDT (#237588) #
Magpie you old trinket gathering bird you - what a great piece. Bravo.

Methinks, as your golden years approach you're getting kinder, softer and more reflective. Next you'll be reminiscing about Tim Horton (before the donuts), Cookie Gilchrist (when he was playing both ways - and NO - that has nothing to do with sex for you youngins), Garney Henley (when he was the best defensive back in CFL history), and George Bell (when he was in minor league ball).

Could it be --- you're actually getting to be near my age? You poor old thing - why not go have a scotch - make it a double - single malt of course.
92-93 - Monday, June 27 2011 @ 01:40 PM EDT (#237593) #
Earlier in the season when the team had an 8 man bullpen it still seemed like everybody was overworked and that it made sense to be carrying so many guys. The rotation has really begun to pick up steam lately though, and there hasn't been much work for the relievers. Dotel has pitched once in the last 7 days; Rzepczynski has thrown 1 pitch in the last 5 days; Camp has pitched 1 inning (10 pitches) in the last 10 days; Perez has thrown 1.2 innings, 28 pitches in the last 10 days. These things are cyclical, but it appears the team should be just fine with 7 RP going forward, although with Janssen a few days away that would mean only carrying 1 LHP. If the team does intend to option down Perez they should utilize him a couple of times first in the coming days.
John Northey - Monday, June 27 2011 @ 01:51 PM EDT (#237595) #
McKeon will certainly make connecting today to the distant past much easier. McKeon played at age 18 in 1949 for Greenville (class D) for Pittsburgh. That was 2 years after Jackie Robinson reached the major leagues. Vern Law was also in Pittsburgh's minor leagues (father of Vance, ex-Expo) as was Mel Queen and the first Frank Thomas. Ted Williams was just 30 years old.

Now that is an old manager.
Mick Doherty - Monday, June 27 2011 @ 02:23 PM EDT (#237598) #

Melvin Douglas Queen or Melvin Joseph Queen? :-)

There's a lotta this fater/son stuff out there!

China fan - Monday, June 27 2011 @ 02:36 PM EDT (#237600) #

.... it appears the team should be just fine with 7 RP going forward....

I agree. The 8 relievers have been useful for most of this season, but the starters are finally stretching out and a 7-man pen would be adequate now.  Unfortunately, given how the team is currently constituted, the switch to a 7-man pen would merely mean that Mike McCoy would be called back up, yet again, for the usual pinch-running and 9th-inning defensive duties and the occasional spot start.  As long as the Jays remain committed to Rivera and Encarnacion, there's still no room for Snider or Cooper or Loewen in the starting lineup.  And there's no point in calling up a good prospect for occasional bench duty.  (Thames, I assume, is not a bench player -- he will get plenty of work in the starting lineup on most days in the future.)  So the issue remains:  how much longer will the Jays stick with Rivera and EE in a rebuilding year?

Mike Green - Monday, June 27 2011 @ 02:51 PM EDT (#237601) #
I don't think that is necessarily the case.  You could DFA Dotel and call up Cooper to be a platoon DH.  Rivera and Encarnacion would still have roles (platoon LF/PH and platoon DH/IF backup) respectively. 
China fan - Monday, June 27 2011 @ 03:43 PM EDT (#237603) #
You could certainly do that.  But I was attempting to predict, based on existing tendencies, what the Jays were likely to actually do with the extra bat if they demote a reliever.  And that, unfortunately, is McCoy. 
John Northey - Monday, June 27 2011 @ 04:31 PM EDT (#237611) #
Lots of options, but right now I think the Jays are trying to con someone into taking one of the vets.

Think about who fills in for who should the Jays dump the weak links...

3B: Nix (55 OPS+)/McDonald (50 OPS+)/McCoy (78 OPS+) - none have any value, but the minute Lawrie is healed he is called up thus a trade doesn't help and EE isn't viewed as an option.

LF: Patterson (89 OPS+)/Rivera (91 OPS+)/Snider (50 OPS+)/Thames (118 OPS+) - Thames is here now, but used in RF until we get Lawrie here

DH: Encarnacion (85 OPS+)/Rivera (91 OPS+)/Cooper (35 OPS+). Cooper might be a solution but didn't really show it while up here.

At DH/LF you expect a 110 OPS+ if you want to be successful as those are low D high O positions. The Yankees have Gardner (111) and Posada (up to 99 now). The Red Sox have Crawford (78 right after signing a 7 year $142 mil deal) and Ortiz (162). The Rays have Fuld (89 OPS+) and Damon (111). Each of the big 3 have at least one solid hitter, and the two weak ones are Crawford (who no one expected to drop this far this fast) and Fuld (29 year old AAAA guy who will be replaced ASAP I suspect).

Again, once Lawrie is healthy we'll see Thames in LF, Bautista in RF, a hole in CF, Lawrie at 3B, Escobar at SS, Hill at 2B (bit of a hole), Lind at 1B, and JPA behind the plate with who knows DHing.

Thus the only real hole not being filled this minute where a call-up could be done is DH and Cooper or Snider could platoon with Encarnacion or Rivera there I'm sure. But Snider is still hitting poorly (for Vegas with a 324/396/468 line but just 2 HR) and Cooper (371/435/576 with 6 HR) is counting on BABIP more than real power so far, although 29 doubles is a good sign.

Btw, Loewen is now up to 314/376/564 with 12 HR. If it wasn't for his 29 BB / 78 SO ratio and the fact the Jays can't send him back down without exposing to waivers I'd be expecting him any day now.

I'm betting on a shakeup on August 1st (post trade deadline day) when the Jays will dump one or more of Encarnacion and Rivera while calling up the hottest of Loewen/Snider/Cooper to DH/LF. If they dump Patterson as well then I could see Loewen taking over that role (backup CF/LF/RF, DH sometimes) while Thames is DH/LF leaving Cooper & Snider to figure out if they can earn a role in 2012/September. Snider staying down until September would have the added bonus of pushing his free agency back a full year if I have it figured right (needs to be down for 127 days).

It would've been nice if one of Snider/Loewen/Cooper/Thames was a RH hitter to allow a platoon eh? 4 guys, 2 slots (LF/DH). If Loewen can do CF OK (he has 10 games in AAA so far this year) that might help a bit but geez is that a log jam.
John Northey - Monday, June 27 2011 @ 04:40 PM EDT (#237616) #
Thinking more about it the ideal (if all healthy) would be...
CA: JPA/Molina
1B: Lind
2B: Hill
3B: Lawrie
SS: Escobar
LF: Thames
CF: Davis
RF: Bautista
DH: Encarnacion or Rivera mixed with Loewen or Snider (kid getting majority of playing time)
UT: McDonald & Nix (backup OF would be Loewen or Snider)

Cooper would only be in the mix if Patterson or Rivera kept around instead of Encarnacion as you want a real outfielder as a backup for Thames/Davis/Bautista. If the Jays go without a RH hitting backup for the kids then you could keep Patterson and let one of Loewen/Snider/Cooper/Thames be the full time DH and another be the full time LF with Patterson kicking around to give the kids/Davis/Bautista an off-day.

If you cut down to a 12 man pitching staff you could keep Patterson & either Encarnacion or Rivera but I doubt that'll happen.

Phew, quite the logjam of mediocre players in EE/Rivera/Patterson with only 1 real slot for them (backup OF/DH) once they decide to give 2 kids a shot at once. Wonder if Cooper/Snider/Loewen/Thames could play third base :)
John Northey - Monday, June 27 2011 @ 04:43 PM EDT (#237617) #
Just noticed I had 13 hitters (forgot to count the backup catcher). Thus (since they want 2 backup IF I suspect) you can't keep EE/Rivera or Patterson if you have a healthy Lawrie and want to give two of Thames/Cooper/Snider/Loewen a shot.
Jim - Monday, June 27 2011 @ 11:31 PM EDT (#237634) #
Magpie you should be getting paid to write.  The quality of your posts is greater than 99.9% of what is written on the internet.
Mick Doherty - Tuesday, June 28 2011 @ 01:52 PM EDT (#237659) #
Fear not. Mags rakes in as much as the rest of The Roster gets combined.
Magpie - Tuesday, June 28 2011 @ 07:26 PM EDT (#237697) #
It's not enough...

Hey, Durocher famously wrote a book with Ed Linn ("Nice Guys Finish List.") Which I don't have. I wonder if he talks about his first weekend in the Show...
Mick Doherty - Tuesday, June 28 2011 @ 08:44 PM EDT (#237705) #
Leo the Lip wasn't very big on completing lists, hrm??? 8-)
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