ST. PETERSBURG — Getting into the World Series isn't only a big deal for ballplayers, coaches and managers. Making the cut for the Fall Classic is a major honor for umpires, too.
Just ask St. Petersburg resident Jim McKean.
He worked four World Series during his distinguished 28-year career and has served as Umpire Supervisor for Major League Baseball since 2002.
"It's a big selection when you get appointed to work the World Series — it's nearly the same as being the member of a team," he said. "When you've been chosen to work the Series, it's a tremendous thrill. There's a great amount of accountability and responsibility for this team. And you have to get up just like the players have to get up."
Being picked isn't easy and is based on an array of factors.
"You start with the kind of season you've had," McKean, 63, said. "We use seniority. We use ability. We use game management, people skills. And then it really starts at a meeting level with the supervisors. Then it goes to the upper echelon of baseball. It has to be okayed by them.
"The guys we pick are going to be at the top of their game. But that doesn't mean there won't be any problems, because when you go out there, anything can happen."
The process begins by selecting 36 umpires to start the playoffs. Then 24 are chosen to work the division series and 12 assigned to work the championship series. "These six that we pick for the World Series are actually selected from the first group of 24 who worked the mini series," McKean said. "The guys who work in the league championship series are not eligible for the World Series."
The picks are kept secret until about a week before the Series. "That's one of the best calls you make, because most of the time when we're making phone calls they're for problems," he said. "That's just the way our life is. We're like policemen. We don't often get to make good phone calls. And it's very exciting for the umpire who receives the phone call."
The general rule is that the less umpires are noticed, the better job they are doing. Getting noticed often means a controversial play might be involved. McKean knows that well. He worked the 1985 World Series in which Kansas City defeated St. Louis in seven games. The Series was marked by a controversial call in the ninth inning of Game 6 by first-base umpire Don Denkinger — ruling a Royal safe on a grounder when a replay showed he was out — ultimately allowing Kansas City to come from behind to tie the Series.
"I was umpiring third base," McKean recalled. "And very happy to be there."