Managing While Old

With the hirings of Jack McKeon, 80, and Davey Johnson, 68, it appears a new trend may be afoot: old managers are the new market inefficiency. Much is likely to come from this, with teams using Willard Scott's birthday greetings as their own shortlists, and a spirited bidding war to hire The Oldest Living Confederate Widow.

But as many of the recent hires can tell you – having lived through it – hiring more experienced managers is nothing new. In fact, 15 of the 30 teams have employed managers 65 or older at some point in franchise history. How successful have these managers been, considering that their pep talks were littered with stories from the Great Depression? Unsurprisingly, their success varies, much as it does for their younger counterparts, based largely on the on-field talent.

The only manager in baseball history older than McKeon was Connie Mack. Interestingly, Mack was also one of the youngest-ever managers, getting his first gig as a player/manager with the Pittsburgh Pirates back in 1894, at the tender age of 31. His tenure with the Athletics lasted from 1901-1950, and had two high points. The first came from 1910-1914, when Mack's A's won four pennants and three World Series titles. Mack did this from age 47-51. But he was back around two decades later, as skipper for three pennants and two World Series titles from 1929-1931. Mack was age 66-68 for that success, and clearly had no trouble communicating with his younger players.  Even in 1932, at age 69, he managed to motivate 24-year-old Jimmie Foxx to hit 58 home runs.

A pair of 70-somethings also managed in the big leagues, one just recently, the other decades ago. Felipe Alou, who had managed the Montreal Expos well into his sixties, took over the San Francisco Giants at age 68 in 2003 and led them to 100 victories, then 91 the following season. His age 70 and 71 seasons were far less successful, but his talent eroded quite a bit as well. In 2003, his entire lineup featured hitters at OPS+ levels of 90 or above, with five of them above 104. In 2006, just two of his regular hitters topped an OPS+ of 93, and four found themselves at 84 or lower.

The other 70-something manager was Casey Stengel, of course, and it is hard to argue against his later-life success. Taking over the New York Yankees at age 58, he won a pennant each season, save two, until he was 69 years old. The Yankees lost the 1960 World Series to Pittsburgh, and decided to part ways with their manager. Stengel then delivered the immortal line about age and managing: "I'll never make the mistake of being 70 again."

Stengel did manage the New York Mets from ages 71-74 before a broken hip forced him out in 1965. Those Mets teams lost far more often than they won, but even a cursory look at the talent Stengel possessed would suggest that if anything, they overachieved.

One final note on aging managers: fully ten percent of all Major League teams have employed Jack McKeon as their oldest manager ever. McKeon's age-59 stint with the San Diego Padres back in 1990, and his age-69 tenure with the Cincinnati Reds ten years later make him the oldest manager in each franchise's history. With the Padres, he won 89 games in his penultimate season, 1989; with the Reds, he won 97 games and earned a one-game playoff for the wild card against the New York Mets in his age-68 season.

And of course, he'd already held the record for oldest manager in Florida history prior to this year's hiring, winning a World Series at age 72. In other words, it's probably time that somebody gave Earl Weaver – now just 80 himself – a call as well.


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