Life 101…Personally Speaking is an educational yet informal interview program hosted on the campus of Nova Southeastern University.
Jack McKeon led the Florida Marlins to their second World Series in the 11th season of the team's history this past October. He capped a remarkable comeback season when he was named National League manager of the year on November 12.
Sportswriters have enjoyed their senior citizen comeback story with McKeon: Three years ago, at age 69, he went home to North Carolina after a second-place finish managing the Cincinnati Reds. Presumably retired, McKeon spent time with his grandchildren and his cigars. Then in May 2003, McKeon was called to take over the Marlins when the team's record was 16-22. The team finished 91-71, winning the NL wild card.
The superlatives for McKeon in 2003 add up:
McKeon's magical season came after more than 50 years in baseball. He was born in South Amboy, New Jersey, and graduated from Elon College in North Carolina. McKeon spent 10 seasons playing in the minor leagues, and began his managing career as a player/manager in 1955 in Fayetteville, North Carolina. McKeon's career can be likened to that of a good utility player--he fits in anywhere when called upon and gets the job done. He has worked both on the field as coach and manager and in the front offices. Before the Marlins, he managed the Kansas City Royals, Oakland A's, San Diego Padres, and Cincinnati Reds.
McKeon arrived at Pro Player Stadium in May and crafted a winning team with wise use of hot rookies (Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera), incredible speed (Juan Pierre and Luis Castillo), and by tweaking roles on the pitching staff among starters and relievers, a talent that proved vital in the postseason. McKeon kept the team playing well through the summer and in September built the momentum needed to clinch the NL wild card.
In each round of the playoffs, the Marlins were written off before they took the field. McKeon made decisions that were questioned during the games, but lauded after the proved correct. In the NL Division Series against the San Francisco Giants, the hall-marks of the Marlins season--good baserunning, dependable defense, solid pitching, and timely hits of any kind--helped defeat the Giants in four games.
In the NL Championship Series, the Marlins faced the Cubs, a sentimental favorite for the postseason. The Marlins got past the formidable Chicago starting pitchers and took advantage of the Cub's mistakes. The Marlins beat the Cubs in seven games and arrived at the World Series to face the New York Yankees. The Marlins were down two games to one when they reasserted them-selves with their characteristic play. The Marlins clinched the title at Yankee Stadium in New York on October 25, when ace Josh Beckett pitched a complete game shutout on three days' rest, McKeon's last great decision of the season.