November 3, 1911|
St. Louis, Missouri
|Died: January 6, 1967
|Career highlights and awards|
John Joseph Keane (November 3, 1911 — January 6, 1967) was an American manager in Major League Baseball. Keane participated in one of the strangest turns of events in baseball history in 1964, his final season at the helm of the St. Louis Cardinals.
Playing and managing career
Keane never played in the Major Leagues. He was a shortstop in the Cardinals' minor league system but suffered a head injury after being hit by a pitch. He began his managing career in 1938 in the Cardinals' organization, working his way from Class D (then the lowest rung on the ladder) to Triple-A, where he spent a decade as manager of top St. Louis farm clubs. His career win-loss record as a manager in the minor leagues was 1,357–1,166 (.538) over 17 seasons.
Keane finally reached the Major Leagues in 1959, when he was appointed to the Cardinal coaching staff. He replaced Solly Hemus as manager on July 6, 1961. In his 3½ seasons as Cardinal pilot, he compiled a record of 317–249 (.560) and his crucial, positive role in mentoring young Cardinal players, especially star pitcher Bob Gibson, is chronicled in the David Halberstam book October 1964.
1964: Triumph amid turmoil
In August 1964, with Cardinals seemingly out of the race, team owner August "Gussie" Busch became convinced (possibly by Branch Rickey, whom he had hired as a consultant) that only a thorough housecleaning of Cardinal management would bring him the pennant he had craved since he bought the team in 1953. On August 17, he fired (or accepted the resignations of) almost every senior St. Louis front office executive. Keane was temporarily spared, but Busch was rumored to be secretly negotiating with Leo Durocher (then a coach for the Los Angeles Dodgers) to become manager at the close of the 1964 season.
However, in the last two weeks of the season, the front-running Philadelphia Phillies — who had seemed a lock for the pennant — unexpectedly began to unravel while both the Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds got hot. The Phillies lost ten straight games, creating a four-team scramble for the National League pennant, involving the Phils, Cards, Reds and San Francisco Giants. Philadelphia came to St. Louis after losing seven straight at home and were swept by the Cardinals, who moved into first place. After losing the next two games to the lowly New York Mets, St. Louis won their final game to clinch their first NL pennant since 1946. The Cardinals then defeated the New York Yankees in a seven-game World Series.
Shortly after winning the World Series the Cardinals held a press conference. Most expected that the team would formally announce a contract extension for Keane. Instead, Keane handed owner Busch and new general manager Bob Howsam (Bing Devine had been fired as GM on August 17) a surprise letter of resignation that he had written late in September, at the height of the pennant chase. The Cardinals then bypassed Durocher entirely and instead hired longtime fan favorite Red Schoendienst, a Baseball Hall of Fame second baseman and one of Keane's coaches, as the club's new manager.
Manager of 1965 Yankees
Shortly after his resignation, Keane became the surprise new manager of the Yankees, who fired Yogi Berra after losing to the Cardinals in the World Series. It was later revealed that the Yankees had made an informal inquiry about Keane's interest in the job during the 1964 season.
The Keane-Yankees pairing was not a good match. While the Yankees were coming off five straight American League pennants and 15 league championships in 18 years, the 1965 Yankees were on a downhill slide. The circumstances of Keane's hiring caused a significant credibility gap with the players, and his aloof, distant manner did little to help. Keane's first team finished in sixth place, their first losing season in 40 years.
When the 1966 version won only four of their first 20 games, Keane became the first Yankee manager to be fired in midseason since 1910. He was replaced by Ralph Houk, the team's charismatic general manager, who had coached for and managed the team from 1961 to 1963. The Yankees did not respond to Houk either, finishing in last place, the first time they did so since 1912. Keane's 81–101 (.445) record with New York gave him a career managerial mark of 398–350 (.532) over six seasons.
Keane is described in Jim Bouton's Ball Four as being prone to panic, and someone who was "willing to sacrifice a season to win a game" by putting injured stars into the lineup before their injuries had fully healed. Bouton tells a humorous anecdote of Keane pressuring Mickey Mantle to play on a bad leg. But in Keane's defense, Bouton also noted that general manager Houk and the team unfairly used Keane as the excuse for their losing records in 1965 and 1966, which were actually the result of an aging team with a depleted farm system.
In December 1966, Keane accepted a scouting post with the California Angels. He suffered a fatal heart attack one month later in Houston, Texas, at the age of 55. Keane had lived in Houston since his days as player and (later) manager for the Cardinals' longtime Texas League farm team, the Houston Buffaloes.
In Bouton's book, I Managed Good, But Boy Did They Play Bad, a collection of essays and stories about past Major League managers, he wrote that Keane seemed to be in awe of the Yankees, and that he underestimated the problems the team faced. Bouton felt that the immense pressure and stress of managing the Yankees through their inevitable collapse likely led to his death.
- Halberstam, David. October 1964.
- The New York Times, January 7, 1966