MIAMI — New Florida Marlins interim manager Jack McKeon sat listening as team president David Samson offered a spirited defense of the decision to give the job to an octogenarian.
Samson said the 80-year-old McKeon works harder than many people half his age and seems even sharper mentally than in 2003, when he led the Marlins to an improbable World Series championship.
In response to the comments, a grinning McKeon intentionally messed up Samson’s name.
“Thanks, George,” McKeon said.
The new, old skipper drew some laughs at his re-introductory news conference Monday, but the hiring was no joke. Nearly six years after McKeon retired as the Marlins’ manager, he returned to his former job on an interim basis and will lead the team for the rest of the season.
He becomes the second-oldest manager in major league history. Connie Mack managed the Philadelphia Athletics in a suit, tie and straw hat until 1950, when he was 87.
McKeon will wear a uniform with No. 25.
“I’ve managed since I was 14 years old,” he jokingly said. “I’ll probably manage until I’m 95.”
The cigar-chomping McKeon succeeds manager Edwin Rodriguez, who resigned before Sunday’s loss at Tampa Bay. Last-place Florida took a 10-game losing streak into Monday night’s matchup at home against the Los Angeles Angels.
McKeon’s first lineup card caused a stir, because it didn’t include 2009 NL batting champion Hanley Ramirez, who has been in a slump all season.
“I didn’t think he was running very good (Sunday),” said McKeon, who watched the game on TV from his home in North Carolina. Ramirez has been battling a sore back but also has a reputation for a lack of hustle, and McKeon declined to say which he thought was the issue.
Ramirez had no complaint about being held out of the lineup and said he welcomed McKeon’s old-school approach.
“He’s going to get on everybody here,” Ramirez said. “If you don’t play hard, you’re not going to be here.”
Teammate Logan Morrison agreed that was a good thing.
“We have a lot of guys who Edwin said don’t hustle or play hard,” Morrison said. “Maybe Jack can kick them in the butt.”
McKeon had been working part time as a special assistant to team owner Jeffrey Loria. His hiring came with the Marlins trying to end a three-week free-fall that had seen them go 1-18 in June.
“I feel 80 years old myself the last three weeks,” president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest said. “It’s good to have a friend in a time of need, and this is a time of need for this organization. Jack can get the attention of a team very quickly and get them moving in the right direction.”
The Marlins are expected to hire another manager after this season before moving into their new ballpark next April. But if McKeon can pull off a repeat of 2003, he might get a multiyear contract.
That team was floundering when he took over in May, and he led it to a title, with postseason wins over the Giants, Cubs and Yankees.
“They’re looking for the same magic from Jack they had before,” said Dusty Baker, who managed that Cubs club and is now the Reds’ manager. “I’m happy to see Jack back.”
After three successive winning seasons with Florida, McKeon retired as manager at age 74 in 2005. There had been a buzz for several years that he wanted to return to the dugout.
“I had a little siesta,” he said. “After I laid out for a year and a half or two years, I started to miss it.”
This is the second consecutive season Florida has changed managers in June. Fredi Gonzalez was fired and replaced a year ago by Rodriguez, a first-time major-league manager.
In McKeon, the Marlins found a replacement with plenty of experience.
“He’s got the energy to do it,” said Gonzalez, who now manages the Braves. “He’s a character, too.”
McKeon also came out of retirement at 72 to take over the Marlins 38 games into the 2003 season. That hiring made him the oldest manager to take over a big league team, and he quickly revived a franchise that had managed just one winning record in its 10-year history. Florida beat the Yankees in the World Series, and McKeon received the NL manager of the year award for the second time.
Now he’ll try to orchestrate a similar turnaround. The Marlins were only two games behind NL East leader Philadelphia when the month began, but they’ve tumbled to last place and began the week at 32-40.
McKeon was born Nov. 23, 1930, in South Amboy, N.J. He began his professional baseball career as a minor league catcher in 1949 and managed 2,269 games in the minors.
He took his first managerial job at Kansas City in 1973 and has also managed at Oakland, San Diego and Cincinnati, leading the Reds to a wild card berth in 1999 and winning manager of the year. He returns to the dugout with a career record of 1,011-940.
Red Sox manager Terry Francona said he found McKeon’s latest career comeback amazing at age 80.
“I know one thing, I’ll be dead by then,” Francona said. “This job does take a lot out of you. But he hasn’t managed for like five years, so I guess he’s all fired up. He did a pretty good job the last time.”
AP Sports Writer Joe Kay in Cincinnati and AP freelancers Ken Powtak in Boston and Amy Jinkner-Lloyd in Atlanta contributed to this report.