Born: November 23, 1930
Town: South Amboy
John Aloysius McKeon was born November 23, 1930 in South Amboy. He was the eldest of three children, followed by a brother, Bill (aka Biff) and a sister, Marge. Jack played football, basketball and baseball growing up, and excelled on the diamond and the hardwood for St. Mary’s High School (now Cardinal McCarrick High) in the years after World War II. His nickname back then was Butts—given to him because he had already begun chomping on cigars as a teenager.
Jack was a 5'8" starting guard on the basketball team that starred the O’Brien twins, Eddie and Johnny. He was also one of the state’s smartest and most talented catchers, and although his hitting was nothing to get excited about, scouts from several big-league clubs were interested in Jack.
Initially, Jack’s father—who ran a local cab company and owned garages and parking lots—would not let him sign. He didn’t want him to end up driving a hack and insisted his son get a college education. Jack enrolled at Holy Cross, but before the baseball season even began, the scouts were back. Jack’s dad finally relented—on the promise that he would ultimately get a college degree. Jack signed with the Pirates and although he never made it out of the minors as a player, he managed to earn his degree by the end of the decade.
Jack’s first taste of running a ballclub came in 1951, while he was in the military. He managed the team at Sampson Air Force Base to a championship. In 1955, Jack accepted an offer to add managerial duties to his work as a catcher with the Fayetteville Highlanders, a Class-C affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles. He would go on to catch regularly through 1958, but the die was cast—his future in baseball would be in the dugout. By the mid-1960s, Jack was managing at Class-AAA for the Twins. His big break came in 1973, when the Kansas City Royals tabbed him as their manager and he led the club to 88 wins and a surprising second-place finish in the AL West.
Jack managed Kansas City midway through the 1975 season. He also managed the Oakland A’s in 1977 and 1978. After that, the San Diego Padres hired him—first as a scout and ultimately as a general manager. An astute judge of talent, he became known as Trader Jack during the early 1980s, as his wheeling and dealing resulted in a pennant fir the Padres in 1984. Jack returned to the dugout as the team manager in the late 1980s. He also managed the Cincinnati reds in the 1990s.
It was as manager of the Florida Marlins, however, where Jack achieved legend status. At the age of 72, he was asked to take over a struggling club that had lost 17 of 18 games. The team’s young players responded to his fatherly approach and, led by youngsters Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis, Florida turned its season around and won an improbable pennant. Even more amazing was the Marlins’ six-game victory over the Yankees. When the Marlins found themselves struggling again in 2011, Jack returned for one more stint in the dugout at age 80—making him the second-oldest manager in history.