Jim McKean, who umpired 10 no-hitters and three World Series during a big league career from 1973-01, has died. He was 73.
Jamie McKean, one of his sons, said McKean died in his sleep early Thursday at Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg, Florida, near his home.
Jim McKean had kidney issues and while at St. Anthony’s Hospital in St. Petersburg around Thanksgiving developed a MRSA infection. He had appeared to have recovered from the infection but remained weakened.
“I think his heart just gave out,” his son said.
A Montreal native, Jim McKean played baseball, football and basketball at Monklands High School, then played professionally in the Canadian Football League. He was a punter and backup quarterback for the Montreal Alouettes in 1964-65, then was traded to Saskatchewan and was a punter for the Roughriders as they won the Grey Cup in 1966.
Following a back injury, he returned to college at Concordia. He hoped to become an NHL referee but did not skate well.
McKean’s career path changed after he attended an Expos game at Montreal’s Jarry Park with a friend, most likely in the team’s first season in 1969.
“His friend was a little drunk and yelled down at one of the umpires on the field, Billy Williams, ‘Hey, my friend wants to be an umpire,'” Jamie McKean recalled. “And so, he said, ‘OK, well, if he’s serious, come down the locker room after the game.’ And so my dad went home and changed like it was an interview and came back and he said he gave me information for the umpire school in Gulfport, Florida, down here in St. Pete, and the rest is history.”
McKean umpired in the minor leagues from 1970-73, joined the American League staff in 1973 and made his big league debut that September. His 10 no-hitters tied the record shared by Silk O’Loughlin and Paul Pryor, a mark broken when Bruce Froemming worked his 11th with the St. Louis Cardinals’ Bud Smith on the mound in September 2001.
All of McKean’s no-hitter were as a base umpire. He was behind the plate when Toronto’s Roy Halladay was hitless through 8 2/3 innings against Detroit on Sept. 27, 1998, then allowed Bobby Higginson’s home run. That was the second big league appearance for Halladay, who was elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame this week.
McKean umpired All-Star Games in 1980, 1982 and 1993, and the World Series in 1979, 1985 and 1995.
“To be honest with you, umpires have to get up for big games, too,” McKean said in 2008. “My premise is, if the umpiring is not good, the games are not good. You can have the two best teams in the world, and if that umpire behind the plate or that umpire on the bases is not good, then it’s not going to be a good game. So that’s where the pressure lies.”
McKean worked his last game in 2001. He was on staff for the first half of 2002 and began an umpire supervisor at the All-Star break. He was let go after the 2010 season and became an umpire analyst for ESPN in 2011.
“Jim was a highly respected figure in the sport, and we are particularly grateful that he represented our game so well in his native Canada,” Major League Baseball said in a statement.
McKean was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2004.
In addition to Jamie, he is survived by another son, Brett. McKean’s wife, the former Ann Carey, died in 2007.
A funeral will be held at Holy Family Catholic Church in St. Petersburg. The date had not been scheduled.
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