Sorry, but we’re stuck with Country Joe West
By nearly any measure, Joe West is an awful umpire. He’s got a well-earned reputation for turning situations into conflagrations, and making himself the center of attention. The numbers don’t help him much, either…
In 2010, West nearly “won” a poll as MLB’s worst umpire.
In 2011, West upped his game and actually won that contest.
In fairness, a 2007 study did suggest that West was one of the best, most consistent umpires on balls and strikes … but alas, more recent data has him among the worst balls-and-strikes umpires, missing on roughly 15 percent of called pitches (the best umpires are missing around 10 percent).
In 2010, West publicly complained about the glacial pace of a Red Sox-Yankees game. Whatever your feelings about that glacial pace, it is absolutely not the umpire’s place to discuss it publicly, and West should have been disciplined. Just as he’s been disciplined for shoving Joe Torre (in 1983) and for grabbing Jonathan Papelbon’s jersey (in 2014), and might have been disciplined for wrestling with Dennis Cook (in 1990).
Joe West just isn’t very good at the important parts of his job – you know, like calling balls and strikes and running a good, clean baseball game – and if there were any real justice in the world, he would have been either retrained or made redundant by now.
But the umpires have a pretty good union. Of which Joe West is the PRESIDENT.
That said, I’ll be surprised if West is around for much longer. If there’s a mandatory retirement age, I haven’t been able to find it. But West is one of the two or three oldest umpires, all of them in their early 60s, and I don’t expect any of them to still be working the plate at 65. Hell, even Doug Harvey quit at 62.
Of course, I bring all this up because West made a highly questionable, game-ending call on Opening Day … and didn’t ask for help in a situation where the great majority of umpires would have asked for help. The first is an excusable offense, but the second is not. In a perfectly just world, Country Joe West would, at the very least, receive an admonishment from his employer, and be told in no uncertain terms to ask for a little help next time.
Jon Paul Morosi suggests that first- and third-base umpires should make the calls on all checked swings, and theoretically I agree. But as with most things, the devil’s in the details. There’s already not a clear-cut definition in the rules of swing … so how exactly would one define checked swing? I don’t know. Maybe you just grant an appeal whenever anyone asks, but then again maybe there would be an appeal on twice as many pitches, adding a small kink to the system.
Or maybe the answer is to make sure the umpires exercise good judgment. Except some of them, and especially the more senior among them, have no compelling reason to do anything they don’t feel like doing.
And so we’re right back where we began, just waiting for Country Joe to retire, and hoping there’s not another just like him, champing at the bit.
Oddly, while it’s Joe West who made the mistake, and willfully, it’s actually Torii Hunter who can and should be disciplined. Hunter’s comments after getting victimized by West’s arrogance:
No, he gave me no explanation. I think he had a dinner reservation or a concert to play in. But that was terrible. All I ask, all everbody asks… We come ready to do our jobs. We ask you to do your job as well. And Joe West needs to do his job. And he didn’t do it well.
All you have to do is check. I’m battling my butt off against the best closer of our time. Just trying to get something going and he just took the bat right out of our hands. In that situation, I don’t know why he did it. I hate that he did it. I don’t know why he didn’t check. He just walked off, so obviously he knew he was wrong.
Leaving aside that strange description of Joe Nathan as THE BEST CLOSER OF OUR TIME, the real problem here is Hunter’s questioning of West’s integrity. It’s one thing to criticize an official’s judgment – and that’s a problem, too – but it’s quite another to question his integrity, which is widely seen as the bedrock of big-time professional sports. Granted, later Hunter covers himself by saying, “I don’t know why he did it.” And any fine you might give Hunter would be less than he tips the Assistant to the Visitors Clubhouse Assistant for running upstairs and getting a sandwich.
But if there’s one public outcome here, it should be a message that Hunter’s public comments were inappropriate. Even while someone should somehow send a private message to Joe West that his act is getting awfully tired.
His baseball act, anyway. The Grand Ole Opry’s always looking for a fresh new face.