Jim McKean, retired MLB ump and native Montrealer, dies at 73

Jim McKean, a longtime Major League Baseball umpire who played parts of three seasons in the Canadian Football League, died Thursday in Florida. He was 73.

Named to Quebec and Canadian baseball halls of fame, McKean also played in CFL

Retired MLB umpire Jim McKean shared some tips with young players in 2015, when he returned to Montreal to be honoured by the NDG Minor Baseball Association with its lifetime achievement award. (CBC)

Montreal-born Jim McKean, a longtime Major League Baseball umpire who played parts of three seasons in the Canadian Football League, died Thursday in Florida. He was 73.

His son, Jamie, said McKean died overnight in his sleep in St. Petersburg, where he'd lived since the early 1980s.

McKean spent 28 years as an MLB umpire, calling the games in three World Series in 1979, 1985 and 1995. He also worked three all-star games, including the game at Montreal's Olympic stadium in 1982. He was named MLB umpire of the year in 1988. He retired in 2001.

He was also named to both the Canadian and the Quebec Baseball halls of fame.

Fond memories of NDG youth

McKean grew up on Draper Avenue and later on Montclair Street in Montreal's Notre-Dame-de-Grâce neighbourhood, an athlete who excelled in every sport he tried.

Jim McKean umpired in the major leagues for 28 years, including in three all-star games. (MLB )

"The most accomplished alumnus in the history of our league," the late Graham Nevin, then director of NDG Minor Baseball, called McKean in 2015, when the retired ump paid a visit to his old baseball field on the corner of Coronation Street and Fielding Avenue.

The association honoured McKean, then 70, with its lifetime achievement award. In return, he umpired a few innings of the under-12 championship game, signed autographs and reminisced about growing up in NDG.

"I used to walk to the field here every day, to play baseball," McKean told CBC at that time.

"I started my career here and actually umpired here, and went right from here to umpire school, and then from umpire school to the minor leagues for three or four years, and then right into the major leagues."

N.D.G.'s Jim McKean umpired 28 years of Major League Baseball and had a CFL football career. Douglas Gelevan reports... 2:12

But before he started making calls on the diamond, McKean took a detour to the football field: the stand-out quarterback at Monklands High School spent two seasons with the Montreal Alouettes and played six games with the Saskatchewan Roughriders during that team's 1966 Grey Cup championship season.

Primarily a backup quarterback and punter, his football career was cut short due to a back injury.

McKean also served as a junior hockey referee and was a basketball coach at what became Concordia University.

He began calling minor-league baseball games in 1970 before joining the American League staff in 1973.

Known for his jovial spirit and friendliness, McKean was on the field for 10 no-hitters over his career.

"His demeanour I think was his biggest asset,'' his son Jamie said from St. Petersburg. "He was a very calm but forceful guy.''

"Major League Baseball sends its deepest condolences to the family and friends of Jim McKean, an accomplished major league umpire and later an umpire supervisor for the office of the Commissioner,'' MLB said in an emailed statement.

"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.''

With files from CBC's Douglas Gelevan and Canadian Press

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