McKeon’s Hiring Could Start A Stampede

DENVER—Octogenarian Jack McKeon took over as the interim manager in Florida to stabilize a Marlins team that was veering out of control, and specifically to provide a strong hand of guidance for shortstop Hanley Ramirez.

The team then plans to make an impact managerial hire in the offseason to boost the visibility of the Marlins franchise as it moves into its new stadium.

There is every reason to believe Ozzie Guillen could wind up with the job, bringing an end to the uneasy relationship he has with general manager Kenny Williams as manager of the White Sox.

And that could then open up the Windy City job for Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, who has had an uneasy truce of his own with the Cardinals ever since Walt Jocketty was forced out as the GM in St. Louis.

And there are plenty of dots that can be connected.

McKeon was the GM of the Padres when they signed a 16-year-old Venezuelan shortstop prospect named Oswaldo Jose Guillen Barrios, who became better known as Ozzie Guillen. And while it was McKeon who traded Guillen in a package to the White Sox for righthander LaMarr Hoyt in December 1984, the two have a bond that has grown over the years—including in 2003 when McKeon took over the Marlins managerial chores the first time, and Guillen was a part of the coaching staff.

The idea that McKeon, at the age of 80, would go back on the field to try to get the Marlins in order before handing it off to his protégé Guillen is not outlandish. And if McKeon can finally get Ramirez to focus on maximizing his abilities, that alone could be a major step for the franchise.

La Russa, meanwhile, finished his playing career in the White Sox organization and began his managerial career in the Sox farm system, getting his first big league opportunity on the South Side when he replaced Don Kessinger for the final two months of the 1980 season. He guided the White Sox to an American League West title in 1983, and remained until being fired 64 games into the 1986 season.

In the process, La Russa and White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf developed a friendship that never wavered and continues to foster the expectation that La Russa will finish his managerial career where it began.

Plenty of time remains before decisions for next year have to be made, however, and as easily as dots may be connected today the line can become blurred along the way, particularly in Florida.

That’s as apparent as the one-year managerial tour of Joe Girardi, whom Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria worshiped because of Girardi’s Yankees ties. He stood behind his hiring of Girardi even when Girardi created an us-against-them-mentality between the people he brought to the Marlins organization and the folks who were there before, both on the field and in the front office.

That all came to an end late in the 2006 season when Loria, seated in his box seat next to the Marlins dugout and screaming at umpires, was dressed down by Girardi in front of the players during the course of the game.

So for all the expectation of a Guillen hiring next fall in Florida, nothing is guaranteed.

News And Notes

• Jim Riggleman is a good baseball man, but it is hard to work up too much sympathy over his situation in Washington. Upset that the Nationals would not extend his contract, which expires at the end of this season, he walked out on the team in June.

Bottom line is that he had a contract to manage the Nationals for 2011, and he failed to fulfill his commitment. Is it really any different than a player, in the final year of his contract, complaining about a team not making a commitment to him? Is it any different than the fiasco of Manny Ramirez, even though he had a contract commitment, pouting his way out of Boston?

• Todd Helton is the public face and the clubhouse foundation for the Rockies. His stature was underscored in late June when Helton appeared in his 2,000th game with the Rockies, joining Derek Jeter of the Yankees and Chipper Jones of the Braves as the only current players who have played in at least 2,000 games in a career spent with only one team.

With a team in just its 19th year of competition, Helton’s impact is even bigger. Consider that 426 players other than Helton  had worn a Rockies uniform as of July 4, and Helton had called 361 of them a teammate.

Just three other players have even appeared in as many as 1,000 games for the Rockies: Larry Walker, 1,170; Vinny Castilla, 1,098, and Dante Bichette, 1,018. Not bad for a guy who on that June day in 1995 when the Rockies announced him as their first-round draft pick, knew basically nothing about the franchise that was in its third year.

Helton expected to be picked by the Athletics, who had the fifth overall selection, three ahead of the Rockies. Original Rockies scouting director Pat Daugherty told original general manager Bob Gebhard not to waste his time going to Tennessee to scout Helton because he wouldn’t be there for the Rockies.

On draft day, Sandy Alderson, who was president of the A’s at the time, overruled the scouting department. The A’s needed pitching and drafted Cuban righthander Ariel Prieto, who had emigrated six weeks before the draft and set the scouting world abuzz.

Prieto did go directly to the big leagues with Oakland, but he never lived up to his billing. He pitched parts of six seasons in the big leagues—none after 2001—and went 15-24, 4.85 in 352 major league innings. The A’s released him after the 2000 season, and he retired after the 2005 season.

Helton, meanwhile, took a little more than two years to make his major league debut, but by the 2000 season he won a batting title with a .372 average and made the first of five all-star appearances.