In 1967, Congress passed the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) to protect individuals 40 years old or older from employment discrimination based on age. Jack McKeon was only 37 at the time, too young to benefit from the new legislation. Today, at the ripe “young” age of 80, McKeon doesn’t need the protection.
Two weeks ago McKeon was hired as the interim manager of the Florida Marlins, his second tour of duty with the club he led to the World Series title in 2003. In a results-oriented industry that rewards success, McKeon’s age is more of an advantage than a liability. If the rest of the world was more like MLB, there would be no need for the ADEA.
McKeon is the second oldest person to manage a Major League team, although he is the first to be hired solely on merit. The oldest manager in MLB history was Cornelius McGillicuddy, Sr., better known as Connie Mack, who managed the Philadelphia Athletics until he was 87. But Mack had an advantage over McKeon in his original job interview and in his annual reviews. During his 50-year run as manager of the Athletics, Mack was also the team’s owner.
Shortly after McKeon was rehired as the Marlins’ manager, Davey Johnson was hired to manage the Washington Nationals. At 68, Johnson is also protected by the ADEA, although like McKeon, he doesn’t need the help. Having previously managed three different MLB clubs for a total of twelve years with a .575 winning percentage, Johnson’s resume was sufficient to get him hired.
With age comes experience, a definite advantage for any manager. Another National League East Division manager, Charlie Manuel of the Phillies, is 67. Like McKeon and Johnson, Manuel has also won a World Series ring. Another senior, Bobby Cox, retired in 2010 after 29 years as a MLB manager, 25 of them with the Atlanta Braves. Cox was 69.
There is more to managing a MLB club than the technical aspects of the job. While it’s important to know how to fill out a lineup card, when to pull a pitcher and how to execute a double switch, those qualities exist in abundance. Managers also need to know how to deal with people, including the media, sponsors, fans, and front office personnel. And most important, they need to know how to handle players.
My first manager was Doc Edwards, a former big league player who later managed the Cleveland Indians. Doc led the Class AAA Maine Guides to the playoffs in each of his two seasons at the helm, a feat that didn’t go unnoticed by fans and the media given the less than stellar talent that dotted our roster. But Doc was always quick to deflect credit to the players. “You can’t make chicken salad out of chicken feathers (although he used another word for feathers),” was Doc’s standard retort to any congratulatory comment.
Whenever I was asked why Doc was successful, my first response was that he knew when to kick butt and when to pat butt. That’s another way of saying he knew how to handle people, something Doc is still doing today as manager of the Independent Minor League San Angelo Colts. Doc has a few years to go before he catches up with McKeon - he’s only 74.
Managing players is something McKeon knows well. He’s managed five MLB clubs for a total of 16 years. Like most successful managers, McKeon is a combination psychologist, baby sitter, motivator, big brother, father figure and disciplinarian. When he took over the 2003 Marlins in mid-season, McKeon immediately implemented rules, established expectations and taught players how to be professionals. Like Edwards, he kicked butt when players needed it and patted butt when players earned it.
And that’s the same formula McKeon is utilizing in his second stint with the club. In his first day on the job, McKeon sat Hanley Ramirez, the team’s uber-talented but moody shortstop who has a reputation of playing only when the mood strikes him. Ramirez got the message. He was reinserted in the lineup the next day and has batted .400 ever since.
At 80, McKeon is covered by the ADEA twice over. But this octogenarian doesn’t need the protection. His experience speaks for itself.
Jordan Kobritz is a staff member of the Business of Sports Network. He is a former attorney, CPA, and Minor League Baseball team owner. He is an Assistant Professor of Sport Management at Eastern New Mexico University and teaches the Business of Sports at the University of Wyoming. He looks forward to your comments and can be contracted, here.
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