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Managerial Moves Take Baseball Back in Time

Posted on June 25, 2011 by Dean Hybl

At 80-years-old, Jack McKeon is back as manager of the Florida Marlins.

I’m not exactly sure what it means for baseball that 68-year-old Davey Johnson is back in the dugout as a major league manager and of the two managers hired in the last week he is the youngest by a whopping 12 years.

The hiring of 80-year-old Jack McKeon as manager of the Florida Marlins and Johnson as skipper for the Washington Nationals is an interesting twist for a game that in recent years had been trending toward giving young coaches a chance to manage in the majors.

Both Johnson and McKeon have enjoyed long and successful careers in baseball, but neither is the answer for the long haul. Johnson has reportedly agreed to manage the Nationals the remainder of this season and through the 2012 campaign, but if the team doesn’t continue to make strides, you know that certainly could change at any time.

McKeon will likely simply finish out the season for the Marlins, who have had nine managers (including McKeon now twice) in the last 11 years.

Some have compared the return of McKeon to what happened in 2003 when he replaced Jeff Torborg after a 16-22 start and went on to lead Florida to a 75-49 record and the World Series championship.

It is true that just a month ago the Marlins looked like an emerging playoff contender with a 31-22 record and only two games out of first place, but just two wins in their first 23 games is a reminder that this low-budget team is always teetering on the edge.

The situation in Washington is slightly different. While Florida has had three winning seasons since 2005 and finished in the top three in their division four times, the Nationals have not had a winning campaign and finished out of last place only once.

However, as a result of that poor performance, Washington has been able to stockpile young talent and grow their minor league system.

They also have showed a willingness to spend money on proven major league talent to supplement the young talent.

As a result, after a poor start in 2011, the Nationals have been hot in June with a 16-6 record to move over .500.

Given their contrasting performances this month, it is curious how the two teams ended up needing managers at the same point of the season.

Disappointed in his team’s collapse and perhaps knowing that he wasn’t going to have long-term organizational support, Edwin Rodriguez surprised many by announcing his resignation as manager of the Marlins.

Davey Johnson last managed in the major leagues in 2000 with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

In Washington the exit of Jim Riggleman was an even greater shock. After massaging the Nationals through a rough start and to 11 wins in 12 games, Riggleman thought the time was right to discuss his status for 2012 and evidently gave the Nationals an ultimatum to extend his contract right away or he would leave.

Given that he has led a team to a winning record only twice in 12 years as a major league manager, I’m not sure threatening that he might walk away from one of the 30 managing jobs in Major League Baseball if not given an extension was the right career strategy.

Therefore, it really isn’t surprising that the Nationals chose to say “adios” and let Riggleman leave at a time when the Nationals desperately need stability.

That is why they seem to have made the decision to hire Johnson, who last managed in the majors in 2000, but has served as a consultant with the team for several years.

The question for Johnson is whether he still has the fire and desire to be a big league manager. After being dismissed by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2000 despite having an 86-76 record in his second year with the team, a burned out Johnson announced in 2001 that he was done managing at the major league level.

In the ensuing decade, he served as an athletic advisor at Rollins College in his hometown of Winter Park, Florida and has managed the Netherlands and United States national teams and in the Florida Collegiate Summer League.

But those experiences are quite different from taking the field at the major league level and it will be interesting to see if Johnson is able to connect with the major leaguers of today the way he did a generation ago.

A proven winner, Johnson has registered a losing season as a manager in only one full campaign and has an overall winning percentage of .564. He led the New York Mets to the World Series title in 1986.

McKeon has also enjoyed a long and successful career as a manger. His first managing job was with the Kansas City Royals and he led them to 88 victories in just their fifth season in the league. He also had winning seasons with the San Diego Padres and Cincinnati Reds before leading the Marlins to a championship.

What it appears both teams hope is that these veteran managers will provide stability for their young players and, more importantly, show them what it takes to be a winner at the major league level.

It is certainly something that both McKeon and Johnson know a lot about.

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