RIP to Jim McKean, who had a nearly 30-year career as an MLB umpire. According to the Tampa Bay Times, McKean passed away unexpectedly in his sleep on January 24. He was 73 years old.
Jim McKean was born in Montreal, Quebec on May 26, 1945. He played in the Canadian Football League as a backup quarterback and punter, though he was a star QB and pitcher high school. He quit the CFL in 1967 and attended umpiring school in 1970. He worked in the minor leagues for a couple of years and was brought to the major leagues in 1974.
In 1976, Dick Butler, supervisor of the AL umpires, said that McKean was the best of his 24 umps. “He has the perfect temperament. He can listen, he can dish it out, he can be serious and he can be humorous.”
McKean was on the field for three World Series (1979, 1985 and 1986) and three All-Star Games (1980, 1982 and 1983). He left the field after 2001 and transitioned to become an umpire supervisor. After he retired in 2010, he was an umpire analyst for ESPN.
“A good day is to go out there and not be noticed,” he told the Tampa Bay Times in 1993. “Any time you can not let the umpire get involved in the result of the game, then the game’s done well.”
Lou Piniella, who had more than a few run-ins with umpires in his career, told the Times that he always looked forward to games with McKean’s crew. “He was a good man and a good umpire. He was very considerate. He let you voice your opinion a bit. He wasn’t quick with the trigger.”
According to Retrosheet, McKean ejected 62 people in his career, from Andy Etchebarren in 1974 to Bobby Bonilla, Jeromy Burnitz and Tony LaRussa, all in the same game, in 2001. He got Piniella twice.
McKean had been a resident of St. Petersburg for years and periodically attended Rays games. McKean suffered a recurrence of existing liver problems around Thanksgiving, 2018. He also came down with a MRSA infection while recovering from that problem and had to be hospitalized.
“We just think his ticker gave out in his sleep,” said his son, Jamie.