It doesn’t happen very often that a hundreds million dollar company hires a 68-year-old to head their team. Imagine the shock of a second group bringing in an 80-year-old as the new boss as well.

Well, welcome to the world of Major League Baseball in the National League East Division.

Just six days before the Washington Nationals hired 68-year-old Davey Johnson to serve as the interim manager until the end of the season, the Florida Marlins brought back former manager Jack McKeon for the same task – at 80 years of age.

Both Johnson and McKeon have a winning pedigree with Johnson guiding the New York Mets to the 1986 World Series crown and McKeon coming in mid-season to turn out the Marlins and lead them to the 2003 World Series title – at 72 years of age.

Age was absolutely no factor for the Marlins in their decision to give the job back to McKeon according to club president David P. Samson.

“Eighty years old is just a number. When we had our discussions, it was not a factor. People who are 80 years old can do the same job, if not better, than people who are 70, 60, 50, 40 and 30. His work ethic is five times better than half the 40 –year-olds I know,” said Samson at the press conference introducing McKeon.

“At 80, he’s sharper than half the people we have working with us. For us, age was not a factor and never discussed.”

McKeon becomes the second-oldest manager in MLB history behind Hall of Famer Connie Mack – 87 years old when he owned the Philadelphia Athletics in 1950. But McKeon said his age means nothing.

“Why should experience get penalized. Eighty doesn’t mean a thing, I’m not 80. My birth certificate says that, but I’m not 80,” said McKeon.

“If you love what you’re doing and have good health and can go the job, then heck I’m all for it. Why should it penalize us?”

McKeon showed he has plenty of fire left in the tank.

“I think we have a club. They showed us early in the year that this club can win. Now we are just running through some tough times. Now we just have to kick a little butt and get a little more aggressive and play the game the right way. I’m very confident that there’s enough talent in that room to maybe if we get things right play in October,” said the manager.

McKeon’s entrance in 2011 reminds many of his takeover from Jeff Torborg in 2003 when the Marlins were 16-22 on May 11. The team dropped to 10 games under .500 before going on a historic 75-49 surge which ended in a World Series crow at Yankees Stadium.

McKeon stayed on the Florida bench until after the 2005, remaining in the organization as special assistant to Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria – scouting players in the Minor Leagues.

McKeon replaced Edwin Rodriguez after he stepped down on June 20 following a 1-18 losing stretch after having a 29-19 record on May 26.

McKeon made his Major League managing debut in 1973 – two years before anyone on the Marlins’ 40-man roster was even born (Randy Choate was born in 1975).

Johnson for his part last managed in the big leagues in 2000 before he was named Nationals interim manager on June 26.

“Davey, I feel, is the perfect fit for this job at this particular time,” said Washington general manager Mike Rizzo.

“He is a guy who has a track record that is beyond reproach. He knows the system. He knows the staff, he knows the Major League club, and he is a terrific baseball guy and a proven winning manager.”

Johnson, who has been a special advisor to Rizzo since late 2009, agreed to a three-year consulting contract which will allow him to have a say in the hiring of his successor as well as a possibility to be the manager in 2012.

“It was not a tough decision for me to step in. I was really excited about even having the chance to,” said Johnson.

The Nationals job opened up when Jim Riggleman suddenly resigned after Rizzo declined to talk about picking up Riggleman’s option for 2012. Riggleman had led Washington to a surprisingly strong season, with a 39-38 record on June 26 only 4.5 games behind the Braves for the NL Wild Card. The Nationals had won 13 of their last 15 games under Riggleman.

John McLaren was installed as Riggleman’s post before Johnson took over.

“This situation just emphasizes the type of team player he is. He’s in essence dropping everything to get back in uniform to help us out,” said Rizzo.

Johnson won 90 games six different times in his career, finishing first in 1986, 1988, 1994, 1995 and 1997. He was fired after the 2000 season in which he led the Dodgers to second place. All told he had a 1,148-888 record.

Since his last MLB stint, Johnson was skipper of the United States at the 2008 Olympics and 2009 World Baseball Classic. And two summers ago, he managed amateur players in a Florida collegiate league.

Former MLB senior vice president and general manager Jim Bowden joked on ESPN that he loved the Johnson and McKeon hirings and said Lou Piniella and Bob Boone couldn’t be too far behind.

“The senior citizen movement is back in Major League Baseball, and the game is better for it,” said Bowden.

ESPN columnist Buster Olney addressed the issue of teams hiring aging managers.

On June 26, Olney wrote: “Part of the reason, some general managers say, is that there are not a lot of strong managerial candidates these days. ‘It’s one of the biggest talent deficiencies that the industry has these days,’ says one longtime executive.”

He then listed a number of criteria that managers nowadays must deal with, including: “being a de facto spokesman for the franchise”; the insecurities and egos of 25 players in his clubhouse; how to handle a pitching staff – the “most valuable commodity in the sport”; “geeks with the numbers” also know as statistical analysis; very smart and talented general managers spawn of Moneyball; being bombarded with nonstop scrutiny.

“What some general managers believe is that there aren’t many candidates – or even current managers – who score well in all of those categories,” concluded Olney.

Leave it to the old men!

 

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