Jack McKeon, who was hired by Loria in 2003 to replace Jeff Torborg and again in 2011 to replace Edwin Rodriguez, said he had no complaints about Loria. The most difficult owners cross the line and believe they know more than baseball experts, he said.
“I know Jeffrey gets a lot of static but in four years he never ordered me to do anything,” McKeon, 81, said from his home in Elon, N.C. “He has a passion to win. He was probably the best owner I worked for in terms of staying out the way, and I’ve worked for some dandies.”
McKeon worked for the Oakland A’s eccentric Charlie Finley, who called him each morning at 6 a.m. to critique the previous night’s game.
“He kept arguing until I’d say, ‘You know, Charlie, you’re right,’ ” McKeon said. “I saved a lot of players from getting released.”
McKeon also worked for Reds owner Marge Schott, who did not interfere except for asking players to pet her St. Bernards Schotzie 1 and Schotzie 2 at batting practice for good luck. She also gave McKeon envelopes stuffed with the deceased Schotzie 1’s hair for luck “and the funny thing is it worked,” he said. “She talked like a dockworker but she was a good gal who loved the Reds. She was, I won’t say cheap but definitely frugal.”
McKeon was general manager for Ray and Joan Kroc in San Diego, where he got the nickname “Trader Jack” and wheeled and dealed the woeful Padres to the 1984 World Series in four years, after which he received a congratulatory telegram from Steinbrenner who said, “You picked my pocket many times.”
“We had a $13 million payroll and today payrolls are $100 million and that’s not enough,” McKeon said. “It’s tougher now to be GM or manager. More owners are involved because they are spending a helluva lot more money. And then you have a result like the Marlins, who were good on paper but the players didn’t perform.”
A promise kept
Loria, who required budgets among the lowest in baseball for years as a renter at the Dolphins’ stadium, kept his promise when he said a baseball-only stadium would enable him to spend more on players. He spent $190 million on free-agent contracts to raise the Marlins’ roster payroll to a franchise-record $95 million. His plan backfired. The Marlins lost more games in 2012 than they did in 2011 and finished last again.
His infatuation with Padres closer Heath Bell proved to be a huge blunder as Bell’s ERA ballooned along with his waistline and he blew save after save, then angered his teammates, who considered him a pouty prima donna. Loria was cautioned that Bell, a star in San Diego, might be unfit and past his prime, but Loria paid Bell a whopping $27 million for three years.
The signing of catcher John Buck, a bust with the bat, was Loria’s call. Loria coveted Mark Buerhle and paid dearly for the reliable pitcher. To pry Guillen away from the White Sox, where he had won a World Series, Loria overpaid again, giving Guillen a $10 million deal and the White Sox two prospects.
Loria is proud of his personal wooing of Jose Reyes, ex-Met shortstop. At 12:01 a.m. on the first day of free agency last year, Loria met Reyes at a Manhattan restaurant and opened his trenchcoat to reveal a Marlins jersey with Reyes’ name on it. After a slow start, Reyes was productive, but by then the Marlins were out of contention.