By: Danny Gallagher
Canadian Baseball Network
JUPITER, Fla. -- Sandwiched around managerial stints with the Royals, A's, Padres, Reds and Marlins, Jack McKeon had a pit stop in Denver at Triple-A with a not-so good Expos' farm team.
To tell you the truth, they were the Bad News Bears at 62-73. But not all of them were bad. Bill Atkinson of Chatham, Ont., was a solid 9-6 as McKeon's best pitcher over 187 innings of work. And fellow Canadian Larry Landreth of Stratford, Ont. was part of the relief corps. Other notable names with the Bears that season were Ken Macha, Randy Bass, Tony Bernazard and Bill Gullickson.
"The Expos had all the good guys coming up that year at Double-A in Memphis,'' McKeon said, as he reminisced about the Bears and his 65 or so years in baseball.
"We struggled a bit but we had fun,'' Atkinson recalled. "Jack was a super baseball man. He knew what was going on. We called him Fat Jack. He was a little, rolly-polly guy but he was a good manager.''
McKeon was likely ready to return to manage the Bears again in 1980 until he got a phone call from Expos president John McHale late in that awful 1979 season.
"Jack, I just wanted to let you know that San Diego has asked me for permission to talk to you. I think it's something you might like,'' McHale told McKeon.
"Nah, John, I don't want to go there. I won't win with that team,'' McKeon replied.
"We were in Springfield, Ohio with a few days left in the season when John called me. I wanted to go back to Montreal because something may have happened in a season or two. I could have been waiting in the wings. I loved working for John McHale and Jim Fanning.''
Yes, if he had stuck around managing in the minors for the Expos, McKeon likely would have been given the major-league job when Dick Williams was fired during the 1981 season, a job that went to Fanning. But how could you look that far ahead?
After hemming and hawing for some time, McKeon decided to talk with the Padres and became a special assistant to general manager Bob Fontaine Sr. in early October.
"I was willing to listen to John. It wasa break for me,'' McKeon admitted. "I ended up staying in San Diego for 12 years. They ended up firing Fontaine mid-way through the season. I ended up as general manager. I made a lot of trades.
"I got the nickname 'Trader Jack.' The owner Ray Kroc asked me how long it would take to get a contender and I said five years but we got there in four. Ray said to do whatever it takes to win so I started wheeling and dealing. It was an old club that wasn't going anywhere.''
McKeon helped turned around a moribound team and drafted Tony Gwynn along the way and by 1984, the Padres had made it to the World Series, only to lose to the Tigers.
Later, McKeon would bring board one of his all-time favourite players: second baseman Roberto Alomar, who was subsequently traded to the Blue Jays by McKeon's successor Joe McIlvaine.
During his time in San Diego, McKeon also managed the club and later took the Marlins to a World Series championship in 2003, allowing him and the team to meet then president George W. Bush at the White House the following January. McKeon's lifetime managerial record is 1,051-990.
"I'm the second oldest living manager behind Connie Mack,'' McKeon said with much pride. "Connie Mack was 87. I have to hang around for a couple more years. I passed Casey Stengel in 2011.''
McKeon, identical twin brothers Eddie and John O'Brien, and future Twins manager Tom Kelly were among the rare athletes from tiny St. Mary's high school in South Amboy, N.J. to make it to the majors. McKeon would make it as a manager and GM, not as a player.
McKeon tries to get to Catholic mass every day and tries to work out every day on the treadmill. You'd never know he was 85. When he's not living in Elon, N.C. where he attended university, McKeon spends time fulfilling his duties as a special Marlins' assistant.
Pretty soon, the genuine, affable McKeon should be under consideration for the Hall of Fame. When he becomes the oldest living manager, then he will get recognition for Cooperstown.