Like Sunday Mass at St. Patrick's, the World Series was celebrated
once again at Yankee Stadium, familiar and comforting inside the
great horseshoe cathedral in the Bronx. Last Saturday night the
98th game there of the 99 World Series ever played came off,
according to New York Yankees starting pitcher David Wells, "like
a game in June, to be honest with you." New York's insouciant
opponents, the Florida Marlins, made sure to put nothing in the
collection basket of hype. "These kids don't see ghosts right
now--they just go out there ballin'," Marlins infielder
Lenny Harris said after Game 1, in which Florida became the first
team in 47 postseason tries to walk into the Stadium and beat
manager Joe Torre's team by one run. Or as cocksure pitcher and
accidental Beat poet Josh Beckett had said from behind his
scruffy beard earlier in the postseason, "We may just be stupid
enough to win this thing."
The World Series seemed smaller too, in the long shadows of the
two epic League Championship Series, in which the accursed
Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox fell in the maximum number of
games and with the maximum amount of pain. (Said comedian Robin
Williams on Sunday behind the Yankee Stadium batting cage, "Not
even Bible characters saw that. Even Nostradamus would have said,
'No, you can't do this twice. Come on, you've got to try
something else. Sacrifice a chicken.'")
Still, to find the meaning of this World Series, you needed only
to know where to look. And on a clear October night that place
was behind the reflection of the halo of Yankee Stadium arc lamps
upon the thick eyeglasses of Jack McKeon, as the Marlins' manager
gazed up from near home plate while being introduced before Game
1. Tears welled in his eyes.
October 27, 2003
After spending 54 years in pro baseball, managing 3,896 games in
the minors and majors, and being fired four times, McKeon had at
last made it to the World Series. He is 72 years old, the oldest
manager ever to get to the Series. How old is he? He was born
before The Star-Spangled Banner was designated our national
Thank you, Lord, thought the man who in his office keeps a
picture of St. Teresa of Avila, the 16th-century Carmelite nun
who wrote The Way of Perfection. Thank you for giving me this
great group of guys and this chance.
Recalling that moment the next day, puffing on his trademark
cigar in the tiny, dungeonlike storage room under Yankee Stadium
that has become his enclave, McKeon said, "That's when it sank
in, that a lifelong dream is a reality. The Lord looked down on
me and said, 'He's worked hard. Let's give the old man one more
As usual, a twinkle in his eye was visible through the smoke. In
May, McKeon left retirement and his grandkids in North Carolina,
putting on a plaid sport coat, plaid shirt and polka-dot tie to
interview for the Marlins' manager's job. Then he turned around a
16-22 team that was a 150-to-1 shot to win the World Series. Not
bad for a guy who's older than the ground-rule double.
Billiards has hustlers, golf has sandbaggers and baseball has the
Marlins. They may have a payroll that's less than one third of
the Yankees', they may have attracted fewer fans than every team
but the Expos and the Devil Rays ("Buffet Night they get a lot of
fans," said Williams), but the Marlins did fashion the best
record in baseball after May 23. They did so with a well-aged
style of baseball.
"We haven't played a team quite like them all year," Yankees
pitcher Mike Mussina said on Sunday after New York won Game 2,
6-1, behind Andy Pettitte, the first lefthanded starter to beat
Florida since Aug. 11. "They're a throwback National League
With table setters Juan Pierre and Luis Castillo at the top of
the order, the Marlins are a free-swinging athletic team that
relies on making contact, bunting, stealing bases and
defense--the antithesis of the best-selling doctrine of
youngblood general managers such as the Oakland A's Billy Beane
and Boston's Theo Epstein. Under a manager who's older than
air-conditioned trains, Florida is trying to become the first
team since the '65 Dodgers to win the World Series after leading
the majors in stolen bases.
"I've always liked this style but never had enough of the right
guys to put it all together," McKeon says. "I've always believed
you let the players play and the coaches coach. You have to give
the players the freedom to roam. I don't want robots. I want
players who use their imaginations out there. They have to have
fun. I don't want players thinking there's a gun in the dugout
when they're out there."
McKeon is reminded that he actually did fire a gun from the
dugout once while managing in the minor leagues, carrying through
on a threat to get a player to stop running through stop signs at
third base. The gun was loaded with blanks.
"Uh, yeah," McKeon says. "Once."
Pierre is McKeon's kind of freelancing player. The centerfielder
was standing in the on-deck circle before leading off Game 1 when
he decided he would bunt. "I wanted to see how David Wells
covered a bunt, and I wanted to set the tone," Pierre said
afterward. He took a strike, then dragged an oil painting of a
bunt past Wells for a single. Pierre scampered to third on a
bloop single by Castillo and scored the bloodless run on a fly
ball by Ivan Rodriguez.
Pierre knocked in Florida's two other runs in the fifth after
more small ball: a leadoff walk (Wells had issued only four of
them during the regular season), an opposite-field single and a
sacrifice bunt. Pierre even helped the second of those two runs
cross the plate when his speedy turn around first base duped
third baseman Aaron Boone into cutting off a throw by leftfielder
Hideki Matsui that appeared to have a good shot at nailing Juan
Encarnacion at the plate. The 3-2 Marlins win ended a 12-0 run
for Torre's Yankees in one-run postseason games at home. New York
hadn't lost a World Series game at Yankee Stadium by one run
Florida played small ball to such an extreme that the weekend
games could have been staged in St. Pat's without knocking over a
single votive candle. The Marlins sent 71 batters to the plate
and didn't have an extra-base hit. They were a singles-only club.
Three of their 12 hits never left the infield, and of the nine
that did, not one was pulled.
In contrast, the Yankees played for big innings and big hits.
They put at least one runner on base in all but one of their 17
innings at bat in the first two games, but they often failed to
advance those legions. New York went 1 for 12 with runners in
scoring position in Game 1.
A breakthrough moment for the Yankees occurred, though, with two
outs and two on in the first inning of Game 2. Marlins lefthander
Mark Redman fell behind Matsui, 3 and 0. "You've got to be
aggressive with a fastball," Redman said afterward. "Not too many
guys swing 3 and 0, especially in the first inning."
These, however, are the American League-style Yankees. Torre
considered it a matter of course to give Matsui the green light.
"He's hitting fifth for a reason," Torre says. "He can recognize
Redman delivered a room-service fastball that Matsui belted over
the centerfield wall for a three-run homer. By the fourth the
Yankees had scored three more runs on extra-base hits--a double
by Juan Rivera and a home run by Alfonso Soriano--to put the game
away, considering how Pettitte was stifling the
righthander-dominated Marlins lineup. Thirteen of Florida's 32
batters against Pettitte lasted only one or two pitches. It was
his 13th postseason win, tying him with John Smoltz of the
Atlanta Braves for the major league record and improving Torre's
World Series mark to 20-8.
In 1996 Torre was a younger version of McKeon, reaching his first
World Series after being fired three times and after 4,272 big
league games as a player and manager, a record wait. "I'm happy
for him," Torre says of McKeon. "He's a lifer. And when the game
is in your blood, it never leaves. What I like about him is, no
matter what job he's had, he never changes."
McKeon is older than the electric shaver. He's been around so
long that he managed Harmon Killebrew and Orlando Cepeda. His
itinerancy has included duty as a manager, scout, front-office
adviser and G.M., the last of which earned him the nickname
Trader Jack for his quick trigger on deals. He once traded his
son-in-law, pitcher Greg Booker. Alas, he also lost two jobs
within two months in 1990, a kind of double-beheader in which he
resigned as the San Diego Padres manager in July and was fired as
their G.M. in September.
The Marlins absorbed rounds of criticism for hiring a Jersey guy
who's older than the George Washington Bridge. McKeon had been
out of baseball for two seasons when he replaced the fired Jeff
Torborg. Commissioner Bud Selig even slapped the Marlins' wrist
for not interviewing minority candidates, to which McKeon, noting
his senior-citizen status, declared, "I am a minority."
"We found out right away," says pitching coach Wayne Rosenthal,
who had never met McKeon, "that he was a no-nonsense,
In late August at Pac Bell Park in San Francisco, 20-year-old
Marlin Miguel Cabrera allowed a catchable fly ball to drop in
leftfield. McKeon called him over in the dugout after the inning.
"Could you have caught that?" McKeon asked the rookie.
"Yes," said Cabrera, who then started to explain why he had not
done so. McKeon cut him off.
"I don't want to hear it then," McKeon said. "You said you could
have caught it, so next time catch the f------ ball."
Said Marlins pitcher Rick Helling on Sunday, "Too many managers
these days are afraid to confront younger players. They want to
be liked. Jack doesn't care, and it's refreshing to see."
Likewise, McKeon doesn't coddle his young pitchers, four of whom
have both started and relieved this postseason. The manager has
needed help covering innings because in Florida's first 13
postseason games his starting pitchers won only twice and had a
McKeon's let-it-ride-and-have-fun attitude extends to his cigar
smoking, which, paradoxically, he enjoys during his morning
exercise. He takes lengthy walks on outfield warning tracks,
during one of which he lamented the decline of public smoking,
especially in what he quaintly calls "Ho-tels."
"That's why I like being at the ballpark at 9 a.m.," he said.
"You can smoke, and nobody bothers you."
For McKeon the ballpark was an even sweeter place to be on
Saturday night, his long walk to the World Series having at last
come to an end. As he left the third base dugout at Yankee
Stadium, he took the lineup card with him. He will have it
matted, framed and hung. The manager may be older than the Empire
State Building, Alka-Seltzer, Dan Rather, Dick Tracy and Donald
Duck, but he's not too old to remember.
"Too many managers are afraid to confront younger players,"
Helling says. "They want to be liked. Jack doesn't care."