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  Fri, June 25, 2004


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OTTAWA LYNX




McKean an athlete behind plate
By RYAN PYETTE -- London Free Press

The first major league baseball game umpire Jim McKean worked behind the plate -- a 1974 Chicago White Sox-California Angels tilt -- was called in the 10th inning on account of snow.

How Canadian is that?

The 59-year-old Montreal native, who excelled at several sports before calling balls and strikes, will be inducted to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame tomorrow in St. Marys with Montreal Expos star Andre Dawson, former Boston Red Sox owner J. J. Lannin and ex-Toronto Blue Jays CEO Peter Hardy.

During his 28-year 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), but wasn't behind the plate for any of them.

If it exists, McKean should probably be elected to the multi-sport hall of fame, too. As a kid, he was a provincial champion fastball pitcher and football player. In high school, his teams won Quebec titles in football and basketball and he was selected Montreal's secondary school athlete of the year.

He carried on to a Canadian Football League career with Montreal, winning rookie of the year, and later Saskatchewan, where he played in back-to-back Grey Cups in 1966,winning 29-14 over Ottawa, and 1967, losing 24-1 to Hamilton.

Shortly after a ruptured kidney ended his football career in 1969, McKean saw a television commercial for an umpire school with longtime National League arbitrator Billy Williams as instructor. It piqued his interest.

McKean went to Jarry Park, the first ball yard the Expos played in, hunted down Williams and expressed his interest in the profession. Soon, he was heading to the umpire development program in St. Petersburg, Fla., where he still lives today.

"I didn't have the baseball background a lot of the Americans had, but at the time they were looking for athletes who might be able to pick up the game quickly," McKean said recently. "You learn the trade in winter ball, the minors and Puerto Rico, but when I got that letter from (American League president) Joe Cronin saying I was hired, that was a big thrill."

While his baseball career was taking shape, McKean also went to NHL referee school and worked collegiate and junior A hockey, including a Memorial Cup series.

He capped an incredibly blessed life as an athlete in 1978 by becoming half of the Canadian national racquetball doubles champions. McKean completed his American League service in 2002 with his final game at Boston's Fenway Park and now works as Major League Baseball's supervisor of umpires from St. Pete.

McKean's a good guy for baseball's front office to keep around because he's seen almost everything that could possibly happen in a ball park. He ejected Toronto Blue Jays mascot B.J. Birdie for showing him up during a game in 1993.

Maybe McKean should be in the survival hall of fame, too.

CANADIAN BASEBALL HALL OF FAME

What: The 2004 Induction ceremony -- Andre Dawson, Jim McKean, J. J. Lannin and Peter Hardy

When: 10 a.m. tomorrow in St. Marys. Autograph line ($10) starts at 1:30 p.m.

More information: (519) 284-1838 or online at www.baseballhalloffame.ca