Potential bench clearings

Jack McKeon's success with a team inherited in May was great for sportswriters, South Florida's baseball future and, well, Jack McKeon. For managers of 29 other major-league teams, however, it might not have sent a great message.

By winning the World Series after McKeon took over for Jeff Torborg, the Florida Marlins reminded general managers of something they seemed to have forgotten -- that good things can happen after switching horses in midstream.

There was a time when it was a common strategy two decades ago.

If you include those goofy mini-playoffs in the strike season of 1981, then five of a possible 16 playoff spots were captured by teams that had made midseason managerial changes from '81 through '83. That includes a Yankees team that went to the World Series under Bob Lemon after canning Gene Michael and a pennant-winning team in Milwaukee that became Harvey's Wallbangers after a 23-24 start under Buck Rodgers.

But during the 1990s, with an expanded playoff format in place for much of the time, no team won a division after a midseason change. The Dodgers did get a wild-card spot after Bill Russell replaced Tommy Lasorda in 1996, but that was it.

Will McKeon's magic be the resurgence of an old trend? It's hard to say, but there is no shortage of experienced managers who are under pressure to deliver playoff teams in 2004. Among those who might not be around in September:

Phil Rogers is the national baseball writer for the Chicago Tribune, which has a Web site at www.chicagosports.com.