Award-Winning Year Was Very Unexpected

Times Staff Writer

Jack McKeon of the Florida Marlins and Tony Pena of the Kansas City Royals were nobody's picks as baseball's top managers when the season began.

McKeon, 72, happily drove a tractor around his North Carolina farm and puffed away on his beloved cigars until the Marlins asked him to turn around their sagging fortunes May 11. Pena, 46, was content to let the Royals, losers of 100 games in 2002, learn on the job to start the year.

Because each led his team to a dramatic turnaround, with the Marlins winning the World Series and the Royals contending for a playoff spot until the season's final week, McKeon and Pena were named Wednesday as National League and American League managers of the year in voting by the Baseball Writers' Assn. of America.

Dusty Baker of the Chicago Cubs was the runner-up to McKeon in the NL voting; Minnesota's Ron Gardenhire was well behind Pena in AL voting. Writers completed their balloting before the playoffs and did not take into account the Marlins' improbable World Series victory.

"They had the courage to go out and hire an old goat like me," McKeon said of the Marlins during a conference call with reporters. "I wanted one more crack."

McKeon is the oldest manager to win the award. He is the third-oldest manager in baseball history, behind Connie Mack (88) and Casey Stengel (75). McKeon also was NL manager of the year in 1999 while with Cincinnati.

"I'm not going to go home and sit in the rocking chair and drive that tractor," said McKeon, who led the Marlins to a 75-49 record after replacing Jeff Torborg. "I hope to do it [manage] as long as I'm healthy enough and feel it's still enjoyable."

Pena took over as manager of the Royals in May 2002. They finished that season with a 62-100 record, but Pena guided them to a 16-3 mark to start 2003. By the All-Star break, they were 51-41 and leading the AL Central by seven games.

Gardenhire's Twins passed the fading Royals late in the season, winning the AL Central. Kansas City (83-79) had its first winning season since 1994.

"We did not run out of bullets," Pena said from his home in the Dominican Republic, "we just ran out of time.... It was a remarkable job my players did."

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