OBSERVATIONS: Trader Jack McKeon turns 90 and is still in baseball

By Hal McCoy

UNSOLICITED OBSERVATIONS from The Man Cave and it seems like Christmas every day because Amazon delivers a package or two every day.

—Former Cincinnati Reds manager Trader Jack McKeon turned 90 this week and remains active in baseball as a special consultant with the Washington Nationals.

Until he had triple bypass surgery 10 years ago, McKeon smoked 10 to 15 cigars a day — by his own count. He has since given them up, but still keeps one in his mouth to chew on.

McKeon attended Mass every day, even on the road. One day in Milwaukee we were walking into a church and McKeon had just lit a $15 Padron.

Before entering, he placed the cigar on an outside window ledge with thoughts of retrieving it after Mass.

When Mass was over, McKeon reached to retrieve his Padron. Gone. Nowhere in sight. So we headed back toward the hotel and encountered a street person sitting on a park bench, a big Padron protruding from his mouth.

Said the street person to McKeon, “Hey, man, got a match?” To his everlasting credit, McKeon whipped out a lighter, lit the cigar, and headed back to the hotel to retrieve a fresh cigar.

McKeon always invited me into his office before games so we could each puff one, almost until game time, smoke filling his tiny office in Riverfront Stadium.

One day I asked why we did this every day and he said, “Because general manager Jim Bowden hates cigar smoke and he won’t come in here.” Bowden was not on Trader Jack’s Christmas Card list.

Trader Jacks’s son, Kasey, is a scout for the Nationals and his grandson, Kellan McKeon, is a scout with the Philadelphia Phillies, a scout with a law degree.

“He got his law degree and was making $100 an hour,” said Trader Jack. “One day he comes up to me and says, ‘I want to get into baseball. I want to be a general manager.’ I told him, ‘You’re making $100 an hour. You’re crazy. But go for it.’”

It’s in the genes, Jack, it’s in the genetics. As you might expect, McKeon is not a fan of analytics and said about scouting, “Some day there will be one guy sitting behind a computer doing all the scouting for every team.”

—QUOTE: From manager Trader Jack McKeon after the Reds kicked away a game with some errors: “We had a major breakdown on defense. The Department of Defense took a day off.”

—Bob Feller II: A follow-up on Rapid Robert Feller after my earlier report on Feller throwing 104 miles per hour.

In another test in 1946, after Feller returned from World War II duty, they clocked his fastball at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland. They used two photo-electric machines and clocked him at 107 miles an hour. Do you believe it?

How good was Feller? In his major league debut, at age 17, he struck out the first eight St. Louis Browns and finished with 15.

“I wasn’t the youngest pitcher to appear in a major league game. That belongs to Joe Nuxhall (15 years old),” said Feller. “But I was the youngest pitcher to ever win a major league game.”

In 1947, he struck out 11 of the first 12 Philadelphia Athletics, then hurt his shoulder and missed several weeks. He once told me of that game, “My fastball that day was as good as it ever was. But after that game, my fastball was never the same and I became a curveball-change-up pitcher.”

Doc Kremchek could have fixed that shoulder, but he wasn’t born yet.

—Baseball rumors at this time of year fly around like turkey feathers and most are like a couple of fans making things up around a breakfast table over coffee and croissants.

One is that the Cincinnati Reds are willing to talk trade about pitcher Sonny Gray. Why? I repeat. Why? They are going to lose Trevor Bauer to free agency and probably Anthony DeSclafani. They need Gray like the emperor without clothes needs a three-piece suit.

It is also being reported that the Tampa Bay Rays are willing to trade pitcher Blake Snell. Now that’s enticing, except every team in MLB should avoid deals with Tampa Bay. That is one smart organization and if it is willing to deal Snell, then something is rotten in St. Petersburg.

—Suddenly, Obi Toppin is a rich man. He signed a two-year deal that guarantees him $9.9 million. If he had been paid per dunk at the University of Dayton last year, his 171 dunks would have paid him $58,000 per dunk.

Said Toppin, who will wear No. 1 with the New York Knicks, the same number he wore at UD, “New York has been down a couple years and I feel like with the guys they have now and myself added to that, I feel like we’re going to win a lot of games. We’re going to put New York back on the map, for sure.”

The ‘O’ in Obi stands for Optimism.

—The Talking Heads are lobbing hand grenades at the Cincinnati Bengals front office for not putting anything more than a paper mache offensive line in front of rookie quarterback Joe Burrow.

Duh? What took them so long? Burrow was hit 72 times through nine games, tied with Daniel Jones for the most by a rookie quarterback in his first nine games over the past 20 NFL seasons.

With that sieve of an offensive line it was only a matter of time before they carted the unfortunate Burrow off the field.

It was like wrapping tissue paper around a Waterford crystal vase and sending it via U.S. Mail. You know it is going to arrive in pieces. And now Burrow’s knee is in pieces. So sad, so sad.

—MoneyWise Magazine ranked the 40 worst college football venues in the country and Welcome Stadium, home to the Dayton Flyers, ranked 28th.

The article cited the ugliness of the two cookie-cutter grandstands with metal bleachers, dirtiness, rustiness, only two limited concession stands and chewing gum residing everywhere.

Miami’s Yager Stadium ranked as 10th worst and the worst was Vanderbilt Stadium, built in 1922.

Having covered games in Welcome Stadium for more than 50 years, I can’t believe the rickety old place didn’t make No. 1.

—QUOTE: From former pro wrestler/Minnesota governor Jesse ‘The Body’ Ventura: “When we build a public library, we don’t have to pay to get in, but when we build a stadium, we have to pay the owner every time we go to a game.”

—Does anybody out there know who the Philadelphia Union and the New England Revolution are? Well, they are two of the top teams in the MLS (Major League Soccer).

OK, so all I know about soccer is that a bunch of guys try to kick a volleyball into an oversized hockey net.

I do know that FC Cincinnati finished last in the 14-team Eastern Conference. I looked it up.

—QUOTE: From astronaut Wally Schirra: “I played English football – soccer – instead of American football, because we couldn’t afford the equipment.” (All you need is a pair of short-shorts, a t-shirt and the ability to fall down in agony when an opponent brushes up against you.)

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