Let’s face it, the Mets are going nowhere and, to top it off, the Marlins are managed by Jack McKeon, an 80-year-old, good natured, cigar-smoking devout Roman Catholic, who attends daily Mass, in the mold of legendary NFL coaches Vince Lombardi and Don Shula, and is a devotee of the Virgin Mary and St. Therese of Lisieux, also known as The Little Flower (which is the patron saint of my children’s school).
A New York Times article, reports that faith sustains the elderly manager.
In each major league city, McKeon has a favorite, or at least a convenient, Roman Catholic Church. If he does not know their names, he can describe them or tell you how to get there. In Cincinnati, it’s SS. Peter and Paul. In Chicago, Mass is at Holy Name Cathedral. In Philadelphia, he goes to what he calls “the oldest church in the U.S.” When the Marlins stayed at a hotel on the East Side of Manhattan, he followed these directions: “Walk out the door, take a left, walk 30 yards, and take a right, where the homeless hang out.”In fact, the 2003 World Series Champion manager of the Marlins, who retired for a second time in 2005, only to be recently rehired to manage the team, credits his faith and the intercession of the Blessed Mother for helping him sign his first pro contract when his dad was reluctant to let him sign out of high school until McKeon finished college.
For each of the regular churches in his personal directory, he learns the Mass schedule.
“At St. Patrick’s it’s 7, 7:30, 8, noon and 12:30,” he said. “They’re very flexible.”
Mornings at church “give me energy,” he said. “You’re free. You feel good.” His daily ritual is part of a baseball routine that is now in its 62nd year, stretching back to D League ball in Greenville, Ala.
“When I go to the ballpark, I have no worries,” he said. “God’s looking after me.”
“So off I went to Holy Cross, and every night, I’d pass the shrine of the Virgin Mary on my way to the dining hall,” McKeon said. “I asked her to intercede with the Good Lord to convince my father to let me sign. I got home for Christmas and the scouts were back, and one day, my father said, ‘You really want to play? If you promise to get a college education, I’ll let you sign.’ I attribute that to the power of prayer.”The jovial octogenarian, who has over a thousand major league victories under his belt as a manager, and twice won the NL Manager of the Year Award, despite never making it to the big leagues as a player, has had almost as much success evangelizing. Through his example, Trader Jack, as he is known, has helped several friends convert to the Catholic Church.
McKeon said that in 1950, he asked John B. Coakley, an older minor league teammate in Gloversville, N.Y., to join him for Mass one Sunday morning. “He said, ‘I’d love to, but I don’t understand all the signals you have,’ ” McKeon said, laughing at the memory. In a telephone interview, Coakley added: “I told him if he taught me the signals, I’d become a Catholic.” And he did.McKeon, who is a the two time book author, credits St. Theresa of Little Flower for helping the Marlins win the 2003 NL Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs, before going on to beat the NY Yankees in the World Series, although he may have confused her with another saint.
Harry Dunlop, who coached for McKeon at Kansas City, Cincinnati and Florida, attended Mass often enough with McKeon to enjoy it.
“If you’re a Presbyterian, it’s tough to go to church on Sundays, because you have to get to the park early,” he said. “So I said: ‘What’s the difference? It’s a house of God.’ ”
He converted, too.
On Oct. 15, 2003, before Game 7 of the National League Championship Series in Chicago, McKeon attended Mass. It was the morning after Steve Bartman interfered with a foul ball and the Cubs wilted.In the Times article, McKeon tells a funny anecdote of an exchange he had at church with good friend.
“I’m in the pew and the pastor says that today is the feast day of St. Teresa of Avila and I say, ‘We’re in, we’re going to win today.’ ” Never mind that St. Teresa is not his St. Thérèse. But she was in the ballpark.
The Marlins won, and went on to beat the Yankees in the World Series. Msgr. Neal Dolan, the pastor of St. Michael Catholic Church in Poway, Calif., said McKeon’s faith “has always impressed me because he believes in being positive.”
“That’s why he’s still managing,” he added.
One of McKeon’s partners in faith is Tommy Lasorda, a former Los Angeles Dodgers manager.Therefore, while I'm not sure about Mets' manager Terry Collins faith background, if he were Catholic, maybe Trader Jack is blowing out his candles too. At least the Marlins are playing the Mets as if that were so...
At church one morning in Cincinnati, McKeon watched Lasorda light a candle.
“Later,” he said, “when I got to home plate, I said, ‘Tommy, I saw you light a candle, but it won’t work. After you lit it, I went up behind it and blew it out.’ ”