Upstate N.Y. Sports Lore: Jack McKeon returns to his Gloversville roots

On July 17, baseball legend Jack McKeon was in Troy to scout the Florida Marlins Class A level Batavia Muckdogs as they took on the Houston Astros A level Tri-City Valley Cats at Joseph L. Bruno Stadium. McKeon is the only manager to win 1,000 games in the minor leagues (1398) and 1,000 games in the Major Leagues (1,051). He also holds the distinction of being the oldest man to win a World Series, when he guided the Florida Marlins over the New York Yankees back in 2003 at the age of 74. He had a playing career of 10 seasons in the minor leagues and has been managing at the professional level since 1955, with 16 of those seasons at the big league level with Kansas City (Royals), Oakland (A’s), San Diego (Padres), Cincinnati (Reds) and Florida (Marlins). Along the way, he also picked up National League Manager of the Year Awards in 1999 and 2003 and had the distinction of managing the National League All-Stars in the 75th all-star game in 2004. Today at the age of 85, he is still an active member of the Miami Marlins organization where he works as a special advisor to the Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria.

For McKeon, a trip to Upstate NY would not be complete without a visit to his old stomping grounds of 1950 – Gloversville. In the summer of 1950, the then 19-year-old Perth Amboy, N.J., native John (Jack) Mckeon was assigned to get behind the plate for the Gloversville Glovers of the Canadian-American League for 72 games. This marked McKeon’s second season in professional baseball and part of the roots of a career that is still going strong 67 years later.

Upon arriving in Gloversville, we toured all of the memorable spots from his 1950 season. There was the old Kingsboro Hotel on South Main Street (now the Kingsboro Apartments) where he reported upon arriving in Gloversville and spent his first few nights in town. One block up on North Main Street was the site of the former Pederick’s Diner (now The Romano Acro Dance Academy) where he and most of the Glovers ate the majority of their meals and socialized. A few blocks further north at 50 Yale St., we visited the former Gunneson family home. They were his host family and let him stay with them during the season.

The tour then made a stop at the Fulton County Museum where a Jack McKeon exhibit makes up a portion of the “History of Fulton County Baseball Timeline Display.”

This marked his first visit to the museum and he was amazed to see all of the items he has given to me over the years sitting there on display to be shared with the sports fans of Fulton County. In addition to items depicting him as a Gloversville Glover, there are photos and cards that document his 16 seasons as a major league manager as well as an autographed photo of him and the entire Marlins Team being greeted by President George W. Bush at the White House in January 2004 after winning the World Series. Other notable items include the Florida Marlins hat he wore during the 2003 World Series and the game ball from his 900th major league win.

During the visit, McKeon personally made some additions to the display, including the Dec. 29, 2003, issue of Sports Illustrated that included he and Carmelo Anthony on the cover.

McKeon’s next stop in Gloversville was to visit the former Glovers Park site where he once toiled behind the plate catching for the likes of Gloversville Pitching Icons John Coakley and Loren Stewart. The site is now home to the Runnings Store, Hannaford and House of Pizza restaurant.

As we stood just inside the entrance to the Runnings store chatting with store manager Gary Preusser, he pointed out that we were standing right about where second base used to be. McKeon responded with “so this is where I broke my ankle sliding into second base.”

After reminiscing about the 1950 season, and then signing some autographs and posing for pictures, he made his way up to the entrance to the site in front of The House of Pizza Restaurant (on Fifth Avenue) to officially dedicate a Fulton County Sports Historical Road Marker. There we were greeted by owner Gus Avgerakis, who was generous enough to allow us to place the marker on his property, and the family of former Gloversville Glover pitcher, and lifelong friend of McKeon, John Coakley. This group helped McKeon with the unveiling of a road marker that denotes the history of Glovers Park dating back to the 1800s when it was called Berkshire Fairgrounds/Past Time Park and hosted horse, dog and auto racing, as well as other sporting events. The next time you are dining there at the House of Pizza (or driving in to shop at Runnings or Hannaford), you won’t be able to miss it.

On the way out of town to catch his evening game in Troy, McKeon’s last stop was Parkhurst Field, the site of the final game he ever managed. Back on Oct. 12, 2013, Jack came out of retirement as a manager to guide the A., J. & G.’s against former Major Leaguer Jim Bouton and the Whately Pioneers of Western Massachusetts in a Vintage Baseball Game played using the Rules & Equipment standard in 1886. The game was part of the 2013 Fulton County Baseball & Sports Hall of Fame Inductions, and McKeon successfully guided the A., J.& G.’s (former Gloversville Little League alumni) to an 11-7 win over the Pioneers, marking his 2,450th and final win as a manager to date (1,051 major league / 1,398 minor league/ 1 vintage League).

It was also on that same day that he helped dedicate another historical road marker that denotes that baseball has been played at A., J. & G. Park/Parkhurst Field since 1906. The Parkhurst Field Museum which is located at the park documents the McKeon Vintage Game, as well as the entire history of the park from 1906-present.

As we drove into Troy to end the tour, McKeon said, “it is always exciting to go back to places you once played. But to be remembered like I am here (Gloversville) 65 years later is very unique and flattering.”

To see the imprint that Gloversville has had on McKeon (and vice versa), you can see the Jack McKeon exhibit at the Fulton County Museum. The museum is located at 237 Kingsboro Ave. and open on Saturdays and Sunday (noon to 4 p.m.) through Oct. 15 and on Saturdays (9 a.m. to noon) throughout the winter. The historical road markers that McKeon has a part in at A., J. & G. Park / Parkhurst Field (Harrison Street) and Glovers Park (5th Avenue) are on display year-round and the Parkhurst Field Museum (Harrison Street) is open anytime a Gloversville Little League game is taking place.

Mike Hauser is the founder of the Fulton County Baseball & Sports Hall of Fame in Gloversville. If you have story ideas, old articles/photos or would like to nominate someone for the HOF, he can be reached through the organization’s website at www.fchof.com or at 725-5565.