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Never Too Old for Pajamas

We are not our ages, at least not fully. We are the sum and the synthesized wisdom of our life experiences.

Jack is back. Baseball manager Jack McKeon, that is, called from retirement at age 80 to take the helm of the floundering Florida Marlins.

And not for the first time. This is an old movie. It was eight years ago that Jack was dusted off at age 72 and pulled from the riding lawnmower he’d mostly retired to and asked to save another hopeless Marlins club. In what is one of my favorite uplifting inspirational sports stories of all time, Jack took that year’s ragged last-place club all the way to the World Series and beat the mighty Yankees! My mighty Yankees. And I didn’t even mind all that much.

His inspiring story of overcoming was so good that we just had to talk him into appearing in the magazine, especially when we learned the very precise role prayer played in his desire to return to the dugout. Here’s his story. You don’t have to be a sports fan to love it. It’s one for the ages!

Once, a long long time ago, I tried to take a fellow starving-writer friend of mine, Mary Gaitskill, on a date to Yankee Stadium. “Why would I want to sit outside and watch a bunch of millionaires run around in their pajamas?” she demanded contemptuously. That pretty much killed the date. Killed the relationship too, more or less. 

Mary’s description, however, was more perceptive than she was aware. Of all professional sports, baseball most powerfully retains its boyhood origins. The NFL is a brutal, violent blood sport. So is hockey. Basketball excessively favors the excessively tall. But almost everyone whiled away the summer playing some form of baseball. That’s why Jack McKeon’s return to it at age 80 is poignant and magical. And yes, he will have to wear “pajamas” in the dugout. No suits and ties in baseball.

He can be an inspiration to many outside baseball. On a recent leg of my book tour, I was trapped in an airport for three hours before my plane took off for home (“bird strike” was the reason given). Squatting like a refugee in tiny Long Beach Airport, I overheard a conversation between a couple of men, one of whom was out of work. “I’m too old to find anything in my field,” he said. I managed a glance over at him. He could not have been much more than 40. How can you be too old for anything at 40? The notion was preposterous.

We are not our ages, at least not fully. We are the sum and the synthesized wisdom of our life experiences. There are an obscene number of people in this country today under- or unemployed, some of them presumptively “too old.” This must change because such a prejudice strangles our dreams. It holds us hostage to the process of aging, where for only a short time we are regarded at our highest value. But that can change. Wisdom and inspiration and experience count. Just ask the 80-year-old guy in the pajamas down in Florida. 

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