08/27/2004 6:59 PM ET
Getting the call from Canadian Hall
It all started behind the plate one day in 1974. A Chicago White Sox game versus the California Angels. What was supposed to be a good two-and-a-half to three hours ended in a tie in the tenth inning -- on account of snow. Call it a sign, or a big coincidence from above, but it doesn't get a whole lot more Canadian than that.
Jim McKean, the Montreal native who shined at many sports before calling balls and strikes, was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame on June 26.
During his 28-year umpiring career in the American League, McKean appeared in three All-star games, three Division Series, five League Championship Series and three World Series. He was voted "big league ump of the year" in 1988 and worked the most no-hitters in history (seven). McKean joined the Major League Baseball staff in 2002 as an Umpire Supervisor.
If someone were to pull out his resume prior to baseball though, it would read like an encyclopedia of sports, encompassing almost every athletic event.
As a young man he played quarterback for the Saskatchewan team in the Canadian Football League (winning Rookie of the Year in 1963 and the Grey Cup in 1966), coached college basketball, refereed Canadian junior hockey and was a championship racquetball player.
"I did a lot of things in my life besides umpiring baseball," McKean said. "They sort of consider me the Jim Thorpe of Canada."
If Thorpe could have met McKean, he probably would have been very complimentary of the comparison. After getting hit in the back, causing a ruptured kidney in 1969, McKean was forced into an early retirement. However, instead of giving up his passion for sports, he sought to try something new.
"I was watching TV one day, when a Shell Gasoline commercial came on for an umpiring school in Florida," he said. "I thought for a second, I am from the Great North, we don't play a lot of baseball up here. But then I have never backed down on anything, and I was not about to."
To this day, McKean is the only true born-and-bread Canadian Umpire in the Major Leagues. Maybe it is his drive or his never-say-die attitude, but once you have met him, you will understand what he is truly about.
"I don't think I have ever idolized an athlete or had a favorite," McKean said. "In my career, even from the beginning, I was always positive -- not comparing, but pushing myself to be better than I could possibly be."
Even though he was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, his story clearly is not finished. He may not be behind the plate making the calls, but his presence is felt throughout the game.
"It is very hard after 30 years working in this job to shut the door," he said. "Supervising has given me the opportunity to keep it open and continue to do what I truly love."
By Kimberly Kirsch / MLB.com
Kimberly Kirsch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.