(Source: James A. Finley)
Pro Perspective: Jack McKeon
- Kansas City Royals, 1973 – 1975
- Oakland Athletics, 1977 – 1978
- San Diego Padres, 1988 – 1990
- Cincinnati Reds, 1997 – 2000
- Florida Marlins, 2003 – 2005, 2011
- Overall Record (1051 – 990, .515)
As General Manager (GM)
- San Diego Padres, 1981 – 1990
New Jersey, College, and the Minors
Jack McKeon (full name is John Aloysius McKeon) was born on November 23, 1930 in South Amboy, New Jersey. South Amboy is a town right across the water from Staten Island.
He was a solid catcher in high school he drew attention from multiple big league scouts. However, his Dad made sure that he went to college rather than try his hand at the majors out of high school.
Jack has always been a devout Catholic, so he chose to attend the Catholic College of Holy Cross. After one semester he approached his Dad again about playing professionally, and received his blessing – as long as Jack promised to still get his college degree.
He signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates and began his minor league career in 1949 with Greenville (Alabama) of the Alabama State League. The next season he played for the Gloversville-Johnstown Glovers.
US Air Force
The Korean War began in 1950, and McKeon enlisted in the Air Force to fight for his country following the 1950 season.
He served in the Air Force between 1950 – 1952, and during his time in the service he was the starting catcher for the military’s Baseball team out of Sampson Air Base.
Jack jumped back in to Baseball after he was discharged, playing part of the 1952 and 1953 seasons in the minors. He was a solid defensive catcher but his hitting was pretty bad, batting only .181 in 1953.
At the end of the season he knew his playing career was basically over.
Transition to Coaching
Jack quickly got into coaching, working as a player/manager for a minor league team in Fayetteville, NC. He then moved to an independent Baseball team in Montana named the Missoula Timberjacks, where he coached, scouted players and served in the front office.
Between 1957 and 1964, Jack gained a reputation as a solid manager and worked his way up the minors as a manager, serving at the AAA level in 1964. He also scouted for a few years and joined the Kansas City Royals’ farm system in 1968.
After many years in the minors, Jack finally made his MLB debut as a manager in 1973 for the Kansas City Royals, whom he would lead for three seasons. Jack led the Royals when George Brett made his MLB debut, and when the team first moved into their new Royals (now Kauffman) Stadium, back in 1973.
In 1977 he joined the Oakland Athletics as manager, serving for two seasons. With the A’s Jack managed such notable players as Manny Sanguillen, Dick Allen, and Vida Blue.
After a disappointing 1978 season he was fired by A's owner Charles Finley. His next foray into the majors would be in the front office.
Padres and Reds Years
Jack was hired by the San Diego Padres’ owner (and founder of McDonalds) Ray Croc to be the Padres GM in 1980. McKeon established a reputation as an aggressive and risky GM, and his time in the front office proved to largely be successful.
His Padres won the National League pennant in 1984. Jack also had a hand in bringing stars Terry Kennedy, Steve Garvey and Greg Nettles to the club, and in drafting the legendary Tony Gwynn out of San Diego State University.
After a disappointing start to the 1988 season, the Padres let go of manager Larry Bowa and Jack took over the job himself. He would go on to manage the Padres through the 1990 season, compiling a 193 – 164 (.541) record as San Diego’s manager.
He joined the Cincinnati Reds in 1993 as a scout and advisor to the front office, and was asked to step back into the game as a manager in 1997. Jack helped to turn the Reds around and eventually led them to a 96 – 67 record in 1999, earning him the NL Manager of the Year award.
While with the Reds Jack managed the legendary Ken Griffey Jr., as well as other notable players such as Barry Larkin, Aaron Boone and Sean Casey.
Florida Marlins’ Skipper
By this time Jack had developed a reputation as being a “resurrection specialist” – meaning, taking over struggling teams and turning them into winners.
Accordingly, he was hired by the Florida Marlins in May of 2003 to take over as manager. Under Jack’s leadership, he took a club that was six games under .500 to a .604 winning percentage for the remainder of the season.
2003 World Series
The Marlins made a historic run through the playoffs in 2003, defeating the Chicago Cubs to clinch the NL pennant. They then entered the World Series as the underdogs against the New York Yankees.
Despite being outscored by the Yankees, performances from Josh Beckett, Jeff Conine, Juan Pierre, Ivan Rodriguez and others led to McKeon’s Marlins winning the Series in 6 games. The decisive game 6 was won at Yankee Stadium, just a handful of miles away from where Jack grew up.
The Marlins' spectacular turnaround in 2003 earned McKeon another NL Manager of the Year award.
Jack would go on to stay at the helm of the Marlins through the end of the 2005 season. However, he was not yet done with the game. Jack stepped back in to the managerial role in 2011, taking over a floundering Marlins team in June after Edwin Rodriguez resigned. He managed Florida for the rest of the season.
Though 88 years old, the Washington Nationals hired Jack to be a special advisor to the GM in 2019. He is a great Baseball mind who still loves the game he grew up with.
Q&A with Jack McKeon
Jack is a former catcher, World Series winning manager and successful GM who has been involved in one way or another with professional Baseball over the last eight (8!) decades. Incredible.
He has managed countless big league stars, from Jim Kaat to George Brett; from Ken Griffey Jr. to Tony Gwynn; and even one of the greatest catchers of all time – Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez.
I wrote Jack a few weeks ago looking to get his input on my catching questions. He graciously responded to my questions, as shown below.
Like others in this Pro Perspective series, I wanted to share Jack’s responses with readers in the hope that his feedback will help catchers wanting to improve their game.
Here are Jack’s responses to my questions, as you can also read in the image below.
Question 1: What is your favorite Baseball memory?
Answer: Winning 2003 World Series.
Question 2: What do you think is the most important skill that a catcher should have?
Answer: Strong arm, good hands, quick feet
Question 3: If you could give only one piece of advice to young catchers hoping to one day play professionally, what would it be?
Answer: Be persistent – never give up on your dream. Study ML (major league) catchers, work hard and smart, have fun
During his playing days Jack was known as a strong defensive catcher, so his answer to the question of top skills for catchers is in line with what I would expect. He also managed the Hall of Famer Ivan Rodriguez, who excelled in these areas.
Jack's answer to my final question is fantastic. I love that his advice touches on many different areas - to not only do the hard work and study others, but to also have a good time and to be persistent at your craft. That is what Jack did, and his 8 decades in professional Baseball is testament to the power of hard work and persistence, with a little fun along the way.
Thank You for Reading
We have many more Pro Perspectives in the works, which will come out on the site shortly. Stay tuned for them.
And as always, feel free to contact us if you have any questions!