by Harold Friend
After losing the 1964 World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals, the Yankees fired manager Yogi Berra and hired the manager who had beaten them in that World Series, Johnny Keane.
World Champions Again?
Keane, like so many others, failed to realize that the key Yankees' players were mere shells of themselves. He never got to know them, and they never knew the real Johnny Keane.
It had been difficult for Yogi Berra to take over for Ralph Houk, and it now was difficult for Keane to take over for Yogi.
Keane was supposed to lead the Yankees back to the World Championship, but his new team's key players were past their peaks, and Johnny was blamed for their demise.
In 1965, the defending American League champion New York Yankees finished sixth.
The St. Louis Cardinals
Johnny Keane spent all but his last two years in baseball with the St. Louis Cardinals' organization. His career started in 1930, as a minor league shortstop.
In 1936, his skull was fractured by a bean ball. Johnny was in a coma for a week, and remained hospitalized for another six weeks. He spent his entire playing career in the minors.
In 1959, Cardinals' front office head Frank Lane finally convinced Keane, who had managed in the minors with great success, to join the major league team as a coach under Solly Hemus. When Hemus was dismissed in 1961, Johnny Keane succeeded him.
The Cardinals finished sixth in Keane's first full season at the helm, and they were a contender the next.
When the Philadelphia Phillies collapsed in 1964, the Cardinals took advantage, won the pennant, and beat the Yankees.
Win and Quit
In August, it appeared that the Cards were out of it. Their reaction was to fire general manager Bing Devine, a good friend of Keane's.
The rumor was that Leo Durocher was going to succeed Johnny at the end of the season.
After winning the World Series, Keane didn't demand a lucrative, long-term contract. He didn't gloat. He quit.
At spring training in 1965, Keane's first reaction to his new team was "I never had so many good ball players."
Keane was blamed for the Yankees worst showing in 40 years. When the Yankees started the 1966 season by losing 16 of their first 20 games, the Yankees fired Johnny Keane and replaced him with the players' choice, general manager Ralph Houk.
The Yankees finished last in the 10-team American League, which vindicated Johnny Keane.
Mickey Mantle was quoted as saying that he was ashamed at the way he had let Johnny down. Most of the other Yankees expressed similar sentiments.
When his Yankees' contract expired after the 1966 season, the California Angels hired Keane as a special scout.
On Jan. 6, 1967, Johnny Keane died of a heart attack at his home in Houston. He was 55 years old.
Johnny Keane was a quiet, reflective individual who appreciated the chance to manage in the major leagues. He understood how difficult it was to win.
After the 1964 World Series, he quietly told reporters, "I waited 35 years for this. That's a long time but it was worth it. I never dreamed a human being could be this happy."
Johnny Keane Dies; Managed Yanks and Cards :Principal in Stormy Chapters of Recent Baseball History Quit St. Louis for New York Only to Be Ousted in 1966. (1967, January 8). New York Times (1923-Current file),89. Retrieved March 5, 2010, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 - 2006). (Document ID: 83571330).
By ARTHUR DALEY. (1967, January 9). Sports of The Times :Passing of Johnny Keane. New York Times (1923-Current file),41. Retrieved March 5, 2010, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 - 2006). (Document ID: 82559701).
Johnny Keane Obituary