McKeon a manager for the ages

The moment I saw smoke billowing from his cigar on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 2003, I've been intrigued with Marlins manager Jack McKeon. At the time I had no clue he had roots with the Orioles and Washington baseball. Then again, McKeon has been in the game so long, he probably has connections with just about every team.

In an ageist society obsessed with staying young, McKeon showed us a 72-year-old man can lead a hot young team to the World Series. It was a sweet ride. After more than 30 years of managing baseball, McKeon finally had a ring. I bet that cigar tasted pretty good.

When I heard McKeon was returning to baseball this year at the age of 80, I made a point to catch up with him when the Marlins visited Nationals Park.

Wednesday afternoon I found myself downwind from a rich-smelling cigar in the third base dugout as McKeon waited patiently for my MASN photographer to arrive. We talked baseball and it occurred to me - this guy is a walking history book. I was like a little kid in a candy store.

In the mid-1950s his first managerial job was with an independent club that helped farm players to the Orioles. Then, McKeon joined the Washington Senators' farm system in 1957.

"I came close to getting Brooks Robinson," said McKeon. "He was over at York, Pa. and evidently he was struggling a little bit and they were going to send him to me in the Carolina League. I guess he started hitting and that was the end of that."

If you think that story goes back, try this ...

As McKeon watched Marlins outfielder Emilio Bonifacio extend his hitting streak to 24 games, I asked him if he remembered Joe DiMaggio's streak in the summer of 1941. Growing up in South Amboy, N.J., McKeon was a 10-year-old Yankees fan.

"I sure do," said McKeon who saw DiMaggio play in a game during his streak at Yankee Stadium. "I went to Yankee Stadium, I was about 10 years old, and I got my first foul ball off the bat of Phil Rizzuto," McKeon continued.

What's next - lunch with Babe Ruth?

I could've sat in that dugout all night, McKeon was happy to share his experiences with me; probably because I listened and was genuinely in awe. I asked him if his players ever pick his brain. Surprisingly, he said no.

"We grew up eating, drinking and sleeping baseball. We knew everybody in every league. Now they got Facebook and Twitter and they don't have time to look at the history of baseball," said McKeon.

If that's true, the Marlins players are wasting a valuable resource. McKeon has seen it all. Now after 60 years in the game, it's obvious with every puff of that cigar - this man loves being at the ballpark.

Program Note: Catch my full interview with Jack McKeon Thursday on the Mid-Atlantic Sports report at 5:30 p.m. on MASN.