It's late afternoon, the ballpark is empty, and constant rain threatens the first pitch, scheduled for 7:05 p.m., not that any of this matters to the man standing in the dugout.

He is once again a big-league manager. He is 80 years old. He is holding a cigar, and he has stories he can tell deep into the night.

Jack McKeon himself is quite a fascinating story, a living symbol of pluck and perseverance, of sacrifice and reward, of succeeding and failing with principles intact.

He is back in a Florida Marlins uniform, his second tour managing the franchise. He was at church -- he goes every day -- in North Carolina a little more than a week ago, and upon returning home, his wife gave him the phone message.

Marlins manager Edwin Rodriguez had resigned, and owner Jeffrey Loria wanted to know if McKeon would come back as interim manager of the team that he led to the 2003 World Series championship. McKeon had semiretired after managing the Marlins in 2005, moving into the role of special adviser to Loria.

"I had a great job," McKeon says, staring out at the soggy O.co Coliseum field before Tuesday night's game against the A's.

Yet McKeon says it took "about 17 seconds" to decide he would get back into uniform, onto planes and into dugouts across the country.


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He willingly explains why he is doing this, but he would rather re-create moments from the late 1970s, when he spent two seasons in Oakland working for firebrand A's owner Charles O. Finley, whose energies by then had turned from promoting quality baseball to tormenting and belittling those employees outside his personal spy network.

McKeon delights in telling of Finley addressing the team in Anaheim, using physical demonstration to augment a corny speech about taking advantage of opportunity.

"I have to go over to the door to show you what he did," says McKeon, who skips to the dugout restroom door and knocks.

"Hello," he says to an imaginary voice on the other side.

"Who is it?" he adds.

"Oh, it's you, Mr. Opportunity. Well, (expletive), come on iiiinnnnnn."

McKeon laughs. Everybody in the dugout laughs. The late George Burns couldn't have done it better. And Burns was not a baseball manager but a comedian.

McKeon pauses. The TV cameras are gone now. It's just the old baseball man, puffing on his cigar and regaling an audience of five. He is comfortable, in his element.

"He fired me in '77 and brought me back in '78," McKeon says of Finley. "When the press asked him about it, he said, 'Well, he's smarter now than he was then.' That was Charlie. He was a pistol."

Jack recalls the routine 6 a.m. phone calls during which it was evident Finley, who lived in Indiana, had seen the box score and wanted details. More specifically, he checked to see if his manager's details matched those provided by broadcaster Monte Moore or "special assistant" Stanley Burrell (later MC Hammer), both of whom were considered Finley's inside sources.

Finley's penny-pinching and his unwillingness to trust his baseball people may have cost the A's a chance to acquire pitcher Ron Guidry, who was in the New York Yankees organization.

"(Yankees manager) Billy Martin didn't like him," McKeon says, "but I'd seen him in the minors and thought, 'Wow, this kid is special.' We could've had Guidry for Mike Torrez, but Charlie didn't want to make the trade.

"Charlie was a pain in the ass. But I had a great experience here. I learned a lot. Figured if I could do OK here, I could do the job anywhere."

McKeon has managed five teams: Kansas City, Oakland twice, San Diego, Cincinnati and Florida twice. "Trader Jack" was the general manager who assembled the Padres' pennant-winning team in 1984.

He is a baseball lifer who has written two books and hosted a sports-talk show. He is a husband who says he has smoked for 60 years yet still tries to hide cigars from his wife.

In the age of superficiality, when plastic surgeons are busier and wealthier than those who treat cancer, McKeon is a throwback, a genuine article.

Ask about his age, McKeon flicks away the question like ashes from his stogie.

"I work out, two or three hours a day," he says. "I had a new hip put in at 60, or else I'd be jogging. I do the treadmill three or four miles. I lift weights, do cardio work. I have 15 acres at home that I mow on a tractor."

He will concede he is an inspiration to America's elderly, but he would rather laugh at the memories that come back with a visit to this ballpark.

Ask him if he minds the travel, McKeon says it's not a factor.

"You know what I don't like? Hanging around the hotel," he says. "I just want to get up and eat, go to church and get to the ballpark."

Contact Monte Poole at mpoole@bayareanewsgroup.com.