MIAMI -- Jack McKeon has spent more than seven decades in professional baseball, and “Trader Jack” has no intentions of slowing down now.
If anything, he continues to embrace the game that not only remains his livelihood, but also is his passion. Today, we are reminded of that more than ever, as McKeon celebrates his 90th birthday.
“This is my life,” McKeon told MLB.com. “I don't know anything else.”
Actually, that’s far from the truth. His mind is as sharp as ever. McKeon knows the game inside and out. He is a walking encyclopedia as well as an engaging storyteller and unofficial ambassador of the sport.
“How did I survive?” he asks. “Persistence. Persistence is the key to success.”
Since 2019, McKeon has been a senior advisor to Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo.
Whether he’s at a big league game or Minor League ballpark or sitting at home, McKeon watches countless baseball games. On occasion, he even gets up at 4 a.m. to check out the broadcasts from Korea.
“I get free time to do what I want,” McKeon said. “The big thing is you get a chance to travel and go out and see the baseball people that you've been with for years. It makes it easier.”
From 2012-17, McKeon held a similar position as special advisor to former Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria. McKeon is one of the franchise’s most beloved figures. His claim to fame, of course, was managing the 2003 Marlins to a surprising World Series title.
“Our guys, they were the most unselfish team I've ever had,” said McKeon, who took over the club at age 72. "These guys were so dedicated.”
McKeon remains the oldest manager to lead a team to a championship in MLB history. His second World Series ring came with the Nationals in 2019.
When he was brought in, McKeon had the reputation of turning around underperforming teams. He took over for Jeff Torborg in May 2003, inheriting a 16-22 record.
With McKeon's tough-love approach, the Marlins went 75-49 and won the National League Wild Card. After dispatching the Giants in the NL Division Series, the Marlins beat the Cubs in seven games in the NL Championship Series. They took care of business against the Yankees in six games in the World Series.
“There's different ways to motivate guys,” McKeon said. “They always thought I was a tough guy. I was a softie. I wanted accountability. I want you to look in the mirror.”
McKeon’s decision to start Josh Beckett on short rest for Game 6 of the Fall Classic helped cement his legacy in South Florida. Beckett rose to the occasion and slammed the door with a 2-0 shutout, establishing him as a big-game pitcher. Beckett went on to prove it again after he was dealt to the Red Sox following the 2005 season, becoming a World Series hero in ’07.
“This guy, he was fearless,” McKeon said of Beckett. “He had a great desire. He was a very determined kid. When I made up my mind that I was going to use him on short rest and I called him in, I said, 'I'm thinking about pitching you with three days' rest. What do you think about it?'
“He said, 'Give me a few minutes. Let me go out and throw a little bit.' He went out and threw. Came back in and said, 'I'm your guy.'“
McKeon, who has an eye to evaluate talent, had been observing the Marlins’ development as an organization for years. In his final season managing the Reds in 2000, McKeon recalls marveling at what the Marlins were building.
“I watched the Marlins take batting practice,” McKeon said. “I’ll never forget saying to [former Reds pitching coach] Don Gullett, 'Wouldn't I like to manage that team.' They had so much talent, but they were in neutral. They were not going anywhere. They didn’t know how to get to the next level.”
McKeon began his MLB managing career at age 42 with the Royals (1973-75). He also managed the A’s ('77-78), Padres ('88-90), Reds ('97-2000) and Marlins ('03-05, ’11). His all-time managerial record is 1,051-990 (.515).
McKeon was voted NL Manager of the Year by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America in 1999 and 2003.
In June 2011, McKeon returned to manage the Marlins after Edwin Rodríguez stepped down. McKeon was 80 years, 309 days old for the final game of the season. Only legendary Connie Mack (87 years, 283 days) managed at an older age.
“If somebody wants to take a chance,” McKeon said. “It probably won't happen. But do you realize, I only need one more game? I'd be the oldest in the history of the game. All I have to do is manage one more game.”
McKeon’s legacy is more than being in the dugout. He also stamped his mark in the front office.
McKeon was the Padres’ general manager from 1980-90, and he was the architect of San Diego’s '84 World Series team, which lost in five games to the Tigers.
It was in San Diego he became “Trader Jack.” Famous for smoking cigars and making moves, McKeon once swung an 11-player deal with the Cardinals, which netted the Padres catcher Terry Kennedy. He signed Hall of Famer Goose Gossage, Steve Garvey and others, and in four years had San Diego playing in the Fall Classic.
McKeon’s first year in professional baseball came in 1949, when he was a Minor League catcher. In '55, he was a 24-year-old player/manager in the Washington Senators’ system. He remained with the organization when the Senators moved to Minnesota and became the Twins.
The first trade McKeon made came when he held the title of Minor League manager. In July 1962, he spearheaded a deal that sent right-hander Bert Cueto to the Dodgers for second baseman Jay Ward.
“I’ve been wheeling and dealing since then,” McKeon said.
Joe Frisaro has covered the Marlins for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro and listen to his podcast.