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McKeon to Leave San Diego, But Not Memories, Behind

January 22, 1992|BOB NIGHTENGALE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN DIEGO — Jack McKeon never has been much for sentimentalism. He was at the ballpark during the birth of two of his kids. He once traded away his son-in-law. The holidays only meant the office was empty.

He was a baseball man, devoting his life to the game.

These days, although he won't dare let anyone see his eyes mist, he confesses how much his heart truly aches.

After spending the best 10 years of his life in the Padres organization, living in the community that adopted him as one of their own, McKeon is leaving San Diego.

The "For Sale" sign is in his front yard. The moving van will arrive in two weeks. McKeon is moving to a new home on 13 acres in North Carolina, and frankly wonders whether he'll be back.

"I can't help but get sad when I think about leaving," said McKeon, who was fired Sept. 21, 1990, as the Padres' general manager. "I'm really going to miss it here. I loved this town. And did I ever love these people.

"I don't have any regrets. I don't have any bitter feelings about the owners. I don't hold any animosity.

"But that doesn't make it any easier, either."

McKeon, who was still under contract for $400,000 last season by the Padres, says he's not ready to give up baseball. Maybe he'll never receive an offer to be a general manager again. Maybe his age prevents him from becoming a big-league manager. But if anyone needs a scout or consultant, McKeon is waiting.

"I knew I didn't want to stay on as a general manager my whole life, anyway," said McKeon, 61, "but I sure wouldn't mind going to the field again. If someone wanted me to manage their rookie-league team, I'd do it. If the right situation came along, why not?

"It won't bother me if I never get another job, but when you spend 42 years of your life in the game, you want to do something. Anytime you're in the game that long, you want to get back."

McKeon, who helped turn the Padres from a perennial loser to winners of the National League pennant in 1984, says his allegiance with the Padres will continue. He'll read the box scores each morning. He'll make imaginary trades and second-guess their moves just like any other fan.

"I'll follow them faithfully," McKeon said. "I want them to do well. After all the years, you've got a sense of loyalty."

McKeon took a cigar out of his pocket, lit it with his Padres lighter, and inhaled deeply.

"Boy, we sure gave it a run, didn't we?" said McKeon, exhaling a cloud of smoke into the air.

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