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Joe West and The Real Disgrace of Baseball

Posted on April 09, 2010 by Don Spieles

So, the Yankees as Red Sox are playing a three game set. You find yourself in the very lucky position of having enough disposable income to afford tickets for one of these games (some outfield seats go for $200 plus.)  You layout close to a grand to take the wife and kids to Yankee Stadium, you spend a bit more on gas and parking.  You drop another $200 bucks on $5 hot dogs, $10 beers, and over priced game programs and souvenirs for the kiddies.   Given this layout of cash, which of the following options do you choose:

A) A 2 hour, 20 minute lightning-round game, barely longer than a $9 movie.

B) A 4 hour baseball clinic with full counts run up by two of the best lineups in baseball, complete with base runners, full counts, and a couple of lead changes to boot.

"Cowboy Joe" West

Some more obvious observation:  Joe West is a blow-hard attention seeker who hasn’t the first clue what is important to baseball fans.

Joe West, Major League umpire, had this to say about the Yankees and Red Sox recent series at Fenway:

“They’re the two clubs that don’t try to pick up the pace. They’re two of the best teams in baseball. Why are they playing the slowest? It’s pathetic and embarrassing. They take too long to play.’’

Why is it that an umpire who’s been in the league for the years that West has doesn’t realize the the very fact that these are the two best teams in baseball is the exact reason why their games go so long.  As Curt Schilling pointed out recently, two great line-ups, taking lots of pitches, giving up no at-bats, makes for long games.  

Furthermore, anyone who would term West’s rant as “fan friendly” is totally clueless, or, at the very least, totally out of touch with fans.  Fans never want less for their money.  Never.  There is nothing wrong with a game that comes in under three hours, but making a purposeful effort to play faster is not only not something that true baseball fans want to see, it is only of importance to the league office.  Shorter games equals better advertising contracts because half-hearted viewers tune out on long games.  Baseball is a business and the league office is supposed to worry about that.  The players better not be.  The umpires definitely should not.

Mariano Rivera, Yankee closer, has no room for West:

“It’s incredible,” Rivera said. “If [West] has places to go, let him do something else. What does he want us to do, swing at balls? He has a job to do, he should do his job.”

Doesn’t anyone think it odd that the guy who is yammering about how the Sox-Yanks games are pathetic is an umpire who does not carry the best reputation for quality calls, who has a history of what many consider show-boating, and whose remarkably tight strike zone does nothing to shorten  a game.  Joe West is the guy most people think about when they repeat that old axiom about how if you notice the umpires then they aren’t doing their jobs right.   West has a umpire equipment business and has a country music hobby where he performs under the name “Cowboy Joe” West.  He is no shrinking violet.

Keith Law, baseball analyst for ESPN had this to say in an chat on Thursday:

“…it’s ironic that one of the five worst umps in baseball said it.  No mirrors in your house, Joe?”

The Yankees and Red Sox is the best match-up in baseball.  These two teams have arguably the most fans of any two professional sports franchises on the planet.  When they play a close game (and all three games of this past series were close – none was 4 hours long) no one wants it over sooner.

If anything is a disgrace to baseball it’s the ongoing chatter about increasing the use of instant replay in baseball.  The conversation is necessary because the overall level of umpiring in the league is bad.  If it wasn’t there would be no temptation to bring technology.  Instant replay fits in football where referees need to cover 100 yards of turf and cannot always be in the optimum position.  In baseball, the umpire knows exactly where the play is going to happen 98% of the time.  While no one expects the umpires to be perfect, and most fans want to maintain the human element,  fans and players do expect umpires to be very good.  If the quality was consistently there, no one would be talking about slow motion review.

Joe West would be better serving baseball by lamenting the increase in horrible calls and umpires who bait players into arguments rather than taking steps to deescalate situations on the field.  When was the last time you saw a football referee scream in the face of a player?

Real baseball fans could care less about the length of the game.  Real fans do want better umpiring, because that equates to better baseball.  That’s where Joe West, the president of the World Umpires Association, should be focused.


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