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McKeon enjoying silver anniversary

The Associated Press

He managed the low-budget Cincinnati Reds to the threshold of the playoffs, making the right moves with a youthful lineup.

Thursday, November 11, 1999

He managed the low-budget Cincinnati Reds to the threshold of the playoffs, making the right moves with a youthful lineup. He reveled as two of his young players won postseason honors.

Finally, he was chosen Manager of the Year by two different panels.

”It’s very gratifying,” McKeon said Wednesday, after the Baseball Writers Association of America picked him as NL Manager of the Year. ”After spending this many years in baseball and getting hit with these awards at one time, it’s exciting.”

McKeon has managed four teams in the majors – Kansas City, Oakland, San Diego and Cincinnati – and earned the nickname ”Trader Jack” for his dealmaking as the Padres general manager.

He has worked for Charlie Finley and Marge Schott, traded big-name players and turned around struggling teams, worked in the front office and managed on the field.

What happened for him in 1999 ranks up there with any of it.

”This has probably been my most rewarding year,” McKeon said.

He managed a team that bucked the trend of only big-payroll teams making the playoffs. McKeon coaxed 96 victories out of a $38 million roster that was loaded with youth and remained in contention until the last day of the season.

The New York Mets beat the Reds 5-0 in a tiebreaker for the NL wild card, Cincinnati’s only disappointment in a season that revived the city’s interest in baseball.

McKeon had hoped for a multiyear contract extension, but had to settle for another one-year deal. Although he turns 69 on Nov. 23 and is the third-oldest manager in major league history behind Connie Mack (88) and Casey Stengel (75), McKeon thinks he can manage for several more years.

”I feel like I’m a 45-year-old,” he said. ”I’d like to continue for four, five years at least. Maybe they won’t want me, but that’s the way I feel.”

His patience with young players made the improbable season possible. The Reds stayed in contention because Sean Casey, Pokey Reese, Aaron Boone, Scott Williamson, Danny Graves and other young players had breakthrough seasons.

Williamson won NL Rookie of the Year honors Monday and Reese won his first Gold Glove on Wednesday as a second baseman. Reese said McKeon’s easy-going style was important.

”With a young team, you know you’re going to have a lot of mistakes,” Reese said. ”In the game of baseball, you learn from your mistakes. Jack is willing to let you go on because he knows you’ve learned and will only get better.”

McKeon, who won The Associated Press Manager of the Year award last week, said his years in baseball taught him how to handle youngsters’ mistakes.

”You’ve got to exercise more patience,” he said. ”You’ve got to let them be on their own a little bit, build up their confidence and not restrict them. You allow them to make a mistake here and there and not jump all over them. The confidence results from being patient with these guys.”

McKeon edged out two managers who overcame a lot of adversity to get their teams to the playoffs.

Bobby Cox, who managed injury-depleted Atlanta to its eighth consecutive NL Championship Series, finished second in the voting. Larry Dierker, who returned from midseason brain surgery to lead the Houston Astros to their third straight NL Central title, finished third.

The AL Manager of the Year award will be announced today, with Boston’s Jimy Williams the favorite.