Howard Herman | Designated Hitter: Jack McKeon recalls trip to a Pittsfield hospital
When you get introduced to Jack McKeon, he quickly launches into an old baseball story.
Of course, when the story involves your place of residence, it is particularly entertaining.
"It was 1950. I was catching, [the batter] swung. I was like a cat, went out to get the ball and turned around to tag him as he started to go to first base," McKeon said. "He got me right here [with a bat]."
The guy know as "Trader Jack" pointed to his forehead where he received some stitches playing for the Gloversville-Johnston Glovers against a team then known as the Pittsfield Indians. Those teams were both members of the Can-Am League at the time.
In 1950, the Quebec Braves were Can-Am champs. Gloversville finished fifth and Pittsfield was seventh out of eight teams.
I ran into McKeon earlier this month in Troy, N.Y., where he was watching the Batavia Muckdogs play the Tri-City ValleyCats. McKeon, who led the Florida Marlins to the World Series title in 2003 as the manager, is a special assistant to Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria, and was in town to watch what he hopes are future Marlins standouts.
McKeon said that he never remembered sun delays at Wahconah Park, like they have now. But he has some memories of Pittsfield.
"I remember the hospital there," he laughed. "I got hit in the head with a bat."
McKeon remembers vividly getting stitched up at what was Pittsfield General Hospital, now Berkshire Medical Center. He also remembers leaving the hospital early to join his Glovers teammates for their bus ride back home.
Trader Jack has been a baseball lifer. Minor league player, minor league manager, major league manager and general manager are all positions you'd see on his resume. He managed the Kansas City Royals, Oakland Athletics, San Diego Padres, Cincinnati Reds and Florida Marlins. He was also the general manager of the Padres and Marlins.
But you get any baseball lifer to talk about the game, and the talk usually reverts back to his playing days.
"First of all, I was a 19-year-old kid out of New Jersey and playing in my second year of pro ball. To get an opportunity to play in Canada ... the experience you had playing against much older players than you're seeing out here today," he said. "Schenectady had [former Detroit Tigers manager] Mayo Smith. There were guys who got to the big leagues who were playing in that league."
McKeon has two National League manager of the year awards in his home. But what he is most proud of is managing the Florida Marlins to the World Series title in 2003 and managing in the All-Star Game the next year.
"It took me 30 years to get to the playoffs and the World Series," he said. "In my first crack at it, I was fortunate to win.
"Along the way, I was 11 years as general manager of the Padres and had the opportunity to build that team and take them to the World Series for the first [and only] time in their history."
While the world does not revolve around Pittsfield, the old Six Degrees game does sometimes fit. Not only did McKeon play games in Pittsfield, but when he managed the Marlins to the World Series title, his bench coach was a fellow named Doug Davis. Davis managed the 1997 Pittsfield Mets to the New York-Penn League title, still the only postseason baseball championship won in Pittsfield since baseball returned in 1985. Davis now works for the Toronto Blue Jays organization.
Most of your current big league managers — Boston's John Farrell is a notable exception — spent no time in the front office. McKeon is a rare exception of someone as well-known for being a general manager as a manager.
"Oh, there's no question, tremendously," he said, when I asked him how much his front office tenure helped him on the field and vice versa. "I managed Kansas City and Oakland and then went to the front office. Nine years later, I came back and managed the Padres again.
"That nine years out was a blessing. I realized how I wanted to do it, if I ever came back."
McKeon said it was never too late to teach the proverbial old dog new tricks.
"The biggest thing I learned was to delegate more authority and let the little things bother me."
That's some advice good for all of us, don't you think?
Contact Howard Herman at 413-496-6253.
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