80 Is Not The New 72

I don’t care if the man has the diet of Jay “The Juiceman” Kordich; the exercise regimen of the late Jack LaLanne; and the vitamin routine of Dr. Bob Delmonteque, 80 is too old to be managing a major league baseball team in today’s game.

Not only is it the travel, but it’s the players of today; the scrutiny; the round-the-clock news cycle; the self-proclaimed experts and would-be comedians waiting for the first slip-up to turn it into a running gag that only ends when something else—funnier—pops up.

Jack McKeon has been hired as the interim manager of the Florida Marlins replacing Edwin Rodriguez after Rodriguez resigned yesterday morning. McKeon is 80 and will be 81 in November.

He was at the helm of the Marlins in 2003 when, after the firing of Jeff Torborg, the club went on a 75-49 run; won the Wild Card; came back from a 3-1 deficit in the NLCS against the Cubs; and stunned the favored Yankees in the World Series.

Perhaps Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria is hoping for the same magic; maybe he wants someone he trusts in the clubhouse to assess and observe before deciding who’s going to take over permanently (or for whatever qualifies as permanently with the Marlins) as they begin play in their new ballpark; or maybe they’re doing it for some attention since the team is playing terribly and last in the big leagues in attendance.

Whatever the reason, it’s a mistake.

This isn’t based on age-discrimination; it’s based on reality.

The Marlins are a spiraling team loaded with young talent. Unless McKeon relies heavily on his coaches to keep an eye on discipline issues and that proper comportment is adhered to, this has the potential to become a story of “kids run wild on the old man’s watch”.

Comparing the 2003 team to the 2011 team is ludicrous.

The 2003 team had veterans who were able to police the clubhouse and make sure no one tried to take advantage of any lapse that befell McKeon due to age. Sturdy clubhouse personalities like Mike Lowell, Ivan Rodriguez, Juan Pierre and Alex Gonzalez were in the room back them.

Who’s in the room now to take charge?

John Buck? Wes Helms? Randy Choate? Do they have the cachet to tell a bunch of insolent youngsters that they’d better listen to McKeon or else?

Or else what?

Logan Morrison doesn’t appear all that interested in taking the advice of authority figures and Hanley Ramirez is a whiny, petulant baby when he doesn’t get his way.

The circumstances in the standings from 2003 to 2011 are similar, but the underlying issues are vastly different.

Ill-informed comparisons have been made to the oldest manager in the history of baseball, Connie Mack. Mack managed the Philadelphia Athletics until he was 87-years-old because he owned the team. By the time he was in his mid-80s, Mack was no longer making the game decisions. Still clad in his suit and tie with the shock of white hair,  he made frequent strategic mistakes and called out the names of players who hadn’t been members of the team for 10 years; third base coach Al Simmons would make the right calls as if he didn’t get Mack’s signals or hear him.

I’m not suggesting that McKeon is in that condition, but any malaprop or egregious error won’t be chalked up to being a stupid manager—which McKeon certainly is not—but to his advanced age.

This season is not lost for the Marlins. It’s June and they’re 7 games out for the Wild Card lead. They can make a run back into contention. Josh Johnson is expected back after the All-Star break and Ramirez is eventually going to start playing like himself. They have star-level talent that can blossom at any moment. But they need discipline and a manager who they’re not going to mess around with.

Someone like Bobby Valentine.

Instead, Loria reached to an old-hand in Jack McKeon.

That hand has legitimate Hall of Fame credentials and a championship ring with the Marlins organization that they wouldn’t have won without him.

But the hand is too old to be effective in 2011 and it runs the risk of a potentially embarrassing end to a great career.

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