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McKeon stands alone as Marlins' best manager

@JoeFrisaro
June 16, 2020

No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top players by position and top manager in the history of their franchise, based on their career while with that club. These all-time selections are

No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top players by position and top manager in the history of their franchise, based on their career while with that club. These all-time selections are for fun and debate purposes only.

Here is Joe Frisaro’s top manager in Marlins history.

Marlins' Top 5: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | LF | CF | RF | Bench | RH SP | LH SP | RP

MIAMI -- After getting off to a 16-22 start in 2003, the Marlins made a managerial change on May 11 that dramatically reversed the course of the franchise’s season.

On that day, Jack McKeon came out of retirement at age 72 to replace Jeff Torborg. Larry Beinfest, the club’s general manager then, called McKeon a “resurrection specialist,” based on his ability to turn around the Padres and Reds in previous stints.

Turns out, Beinfest’s comment was prophetic.

With McKeon at the helm, the Marlins went 75-49 for the remainder of the season, clinching the National League Wild Card with a 91-71 record. They then went on to shock the sports world by winning the World Series in six games against the Yankees.

The day he took over, McKeon challenged his club to do better.

“I'd been watching the games and it looked like some of these guys were trying to hit three-run homers with nobody on base,” McKeon said after the World Series. “It's like they're trying to carry the club themselves. I wanted the guys to relax and enjoy this game. If it’s a burden to come to the ballpark, you can't perform.”

The way McKeon worked his magic, successfully rolling the dice by going with Josh Beckett on three days' rest to close out the World Series, cemented his legacy with the organization. He won the NL Manager of the Year Award and managed the club for parts of three more seasons.

McKeon compiled a 281-257 record with the club to become the Marlins' all-time leader in wins.

“What paid off is the long stretch I had managing in the Minor Leagues,” McKeon said in a recent interview with MLB.com. “That gave me the opportunity, and the mistakes that I made there, I was not going to make them again. I learned from my mistakes in the Minor Leagues.”

The Marlins have had just six winning seasons in franchise history, and McKeon managed three of them -- 2003-05.

Don Mattingly, with 276 wins, is currently tied with Fredi González for second most in club history. González was 276-279.

Mattingly’s mark is 276-370 in four seasons. At some point in 2020, Mattingly will likely overtake McKeon for the franchise wins lead.

McKeon, who will turn 90 on Nov. 23, has been in professional baseball for seven decades. After a long tenure with the Marlins as manager and special assistant (2003-17), he currently is a special assistant with the Nationals.

In '03, McKeon became the oldest MLB manager to lead his club to a World Series championship. He had two stints managing the Marlins, from 2003-05, and he returned as interim manager in 2011, at age 80, when he replaced Edwin Rodríguez.

Only legendary Connie Mack (88) managed at an older age than McKeon.

“I've managed since I was 14 years old,” McKeon joked when he replaced Rodríguez in 2011. “I'll probably manage until I'm 95.”

McKeon has the distinction of compiling more than 1,000 wins as a manager in both the Majors and Minors.

In 16 years in the big leagues, his record is 1,051-990. Additionally, he managed 17 seasons in the Minors, with a record of 1,146-1,123.

McKeon also was the general manager of the Padres, earning the nickname “Trader Jack,” because of his willingness to wheel and deal. He jokes about going to the Winter Meetings, sitting at a table in the lobby and displaying an “open for business” sign.

Because of his vast experience in the game, McKeon developed a strong conviction for making moves. That’s why he felt strongly going with Beckett on short rest with the World Series on the line. At the time, the decision was considered controversial, and he was widely criticized.

“In the Minor Leagues, you make so many moves, and you make so many mistakes,” McKeon said. “I was able to cover my mistakes, and you learn from different situations.

“And don’t forget. I had six or seven years managing winter ball in the Puerto Rican League. I spent four or five years managing in the instructional leagues. I probably managed another 400-500 games in the offseason.”

Joe Frisaro has covered the Marlins for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro and listen to his podcast.