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Sports Then and Now

More of the Same From “Cowboy Joe”

Posted on May 27, 2010 by Don Spieles

Here’s a name you should not know but probably do: Joe West

Aside from his aspiring (or is it perspiring) country music career, Joe West is the best known umpire currently in the major leagues.  But pay attention to that sentence because best known is very different from being the best, or even generally good at his job.  Most talking heads agree, Joe West is an average to below average official.  More importantly, he refuses to fade in to the background of the games he calls as a good umpire should.  Instead, West enjoys his stage and, on occasions like Wednesday’s White Sox game, he demands center stage.

West called Chicago’s Mark Buehrle for two balks in the first three innings of their game against the Indians.  Buehrle, known for an exceptional move to first, didn’t like the first one, and his manager, Ozzie Guillen, came out of the dugout, argued with West, and got himself tossed.  Now, Ozzie getting tossed is not even really news worthy, although most observers seem to agree that what Buehrle did in the second inning was not a balk.  In the third inning, West called Buehrle for another balk that was not a balk.  This time, when Buehrle dropped his glove on the ground in disgust, West tossed him.  It did not appear that Buehrle yelled anything at West prior to his ejection, and it was clear that West was waiting for any excuse.

Is Joe West a Good Umpire?

  • Whatever skill he possesses is overshadowed by his showboating (39%, 7 Votes)
  • He's average (28%, 5 Votes)
  • He's lousy (22%, 4 Votes)
  • Yep, He calls 'em like he sees 'em (11%, 2 Votes)

Total Voters: 18

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Now, balks are a dubious thing at best – most fans I know can’t even explain clearly what constitutes one.  The real issue here isn’t balks, however, it’s roles. Life is much nicer when you and the folks around you know what roles they are in and play them.  Joe West’s role is supposed to be, to steal a line from Full Metal jacket, “In the rear with the gear.”  The is most assuredly not where Joe West wants to be.

Ozzie Guillen, known for his histrionics, made one very good, if not original point after yesterday’s umpiring debacle:

“People pay to watch (bleeping) players play, not to see umpires and managers. I don’t see any people say, ‘I’m going to see Ozzie Guillen manage or Joe West (bleeping) umpire.’ “

Guillen is absolutely correct.  Joe West is not content to be in the background.  It isn’t clear whether he makes questionable calls in order to attract attention, but he certainly takes advantage of every thing that follows.

The kicker of it is that Ozzie Guillen will most likely be disciplined for his rant to reporters in his post-game interviews.  Maybe he deserves it.  But something needs to be done about Joe West, too.

After ejecting Buehrle, West walked into the grass off of the first base line, crossed his arms, and stared intently at Buehrle and the rest of the Chicago staff who came out of the dugout as if to challenge them to give him any more excuses to toss personnel.

Not a rookie card, just a rookie performance.

MLB Network’s Mitch Williams took exception to the very fact that West wears sun glasses when he’s supposed to be calling the game.  While this might be a little bit over critical, the image of Joe in his shades with that pouty bring-it-on look is not the look of someone who officiates.  It reminds one more of a character from the WWE.

The night before, umpire Bob Davidson tossed Carl Crawford and Rays manager Joe Maddon for arguing balls and strikes in the Rays loss to Boston.  Davidson’s strike zone that night was very erratic, as announcers from both sides commented on during the game.  The ejection of Maddon turned into an expletive rich screaming match with manager and umpire almost literally nose-to-nose.  Perhaps Joe West was watching that game and decided that it had been far too long since he’d made the papers for his rant about the length of Red Sox – Yankee games and wanted to get back in the news papers.
The league needs to do something to deal with the overall below average umpiring and prima donna umpires.

  • Umpires need to be responsible for bad calls. Whether it be a statement from the umpires union when calls are blown or game suspensions for blown calls.
  • Two umpires should have to agree on an ejection.  It keeps the emotional element out of the process.  If an umpire wants a player tossed he makes the traditional move.  If one of the other umpires on the crew agrees, he makes the same motion and the player is gone.
  • Umpires should be prohibited from arguing. You’re an umpire.  You make the call, if the player or manager steps out of line, you toss him – end of story.  There should be absolutely zero argument from the umpires.  Explanation is not even really necessary since no one ever overturns a call.  Make the call, toss the people who get rowdy, close your mouth and get ready for the next play.  This is how it is done in all the other major sports.  You won’t see Chad Ochocinco and a NFL referee screaming in each other’s faces over a blown pass interference call.  It certainly isn’t because Chad is above that.

Buehrle made comments about Joe West promoting his new CD. Whatever the motivation, it is clear that Joe likes to be in the spotlight.  Maybe Joe will get his wish and kids will start trading umpire cards someday.

Don Spieles covers Major League Baseball for Sports Then and Now.

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