Welcome to Better Know An Umpire, an effort to educate ourselves on the human elements who have ultimate decision-making power over some 2,500 Major League Baseball games a year. (All cumulative statistics are through the 2011 season, unless otherwise stated.)
Name: Joe West
Uniform number: 22 (crew chief)
Height/weight: 6-foot-1, 275 pounds
First year as MLB umpire: 1976
Total MLB games worked through 2011: 4,314 (home plate: 1,088)
Previous experience: Carolina League, Southern League, American Association, Puerto Rican Winter League
Career ejections: 147
No-hitters called: One (Clay Buchholz, 2007)
Over/under record (1999-2011): 192-171
Hated in: Every single MLB clubhouse
Notable alleged blown calls: Mets-Braves, May 9, 1984; Yankees-Tigers, April 27, 2012; Phillies-Marlins, September 4, 2011 Angels-Tigers, July 5, 2011; Padres-Diamondbacks, May 17, 2011; Dodgers-Angels, June 12, 2012; and many, many more.
Claim to fame: Worked his first MLB game in 1976 at the age of 23. In 1981, West was 28 when he worked the NLCS, the youngest to ever so do. Additionally, West's tenure has spanned five of the nine MLB commissioners in the history of the game.
West's career has included many notable moments. He once ejected two cameramen from Shea Stadium when they showed a replay to some inside the Mets dugout (including future manager Bobby Valentine). He was the home plate umpire when Orel Hershiser set the all-time scoreless innings mark. He ejected Dodgers pitcher Jay Howell for cheating in the 1988 NLCS. He was the home plate umpire when Jamie Moyer became the oldest pitcher to ever win a game. He's seen Albert Pujols' 400th home run, Nolan Ryan's fifth no-hitter, the first playoff game in Canada, the first World Series game in Canada, Shawn Green's four-home run game, Dwight Gooden's debut, Greg Maddux's debut, Kent Mercker's 1994 no-hitter, Pete Rose set the National League consecutive games hit streak, and the deciding Game 6 of the 2009 World Series, to name a few.
Scouting report from Major League Umpires' Performance, 2007-2010, by Andy Goldblatt:
For better or worse ... West has become the most famous umpire in baseball. ... In 2009 he took over the presidency of the World Umpires Association and led negotiations that produced a five-year labor agreement. ... He is confrontational to the point of belligerence, compiling a lifetime ejection rate of 3.3 percent, 50 percent higher than the norm. What's more, he freely violates the profession's taboo against seeking the limelight, employing a personal publicist and basking in controversy. ... He seldom misses games and in 2010 he worked more innings behind the plate than any other umpire.
Scouting report from angry failed video game developer Curt Schilling:
Watch Joe West during the game. He never lets the catcher throw a ball in play. He rushes everything, and calls a small plate. He's decent behind there, consistent, but smaller than he can be. If he wants to pick up the pace he should get the pace of the game going by calling more strikes ... strikes.
Not to mention he often times acts like he'd rather be any place in the world other than the field.
Scouting report from angry Yankees closer Mariano Rivera:
It's incredible. If he 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.
Scouting report from an angry Mike Monteiro:
Baseball, with its mistakes, with its lack of clock, without its TV timeouts, prepares us for life. In life there's no instant replay.
Except that yesterday Joe West, who in 2010 was ranked the 2nd worst umpire in the league, decided to expand the role of instant replay in baseball all by himself. Joe West opened the door for instant replay further than it's ever been opened. Joe West opened the door for our children to cry out that things are unfair, stomp their feet and call out for an instant replay. Sadly, he won't be there when a cute girl decides to go out when someone else, or when you don't get the job you were more qualified for, or when you get blamed for something your brother did, or when someone butts ahead of you in line. And sadly, because Joe West chose to single-handedly change the game that taught us how to deal with a world that can sometimes be unfair, we may not have the character to deal with those situations.
Average K/9 (2011): 13.3
Average BB/9 (2011): 6.7
West was also a three-year starting quarterback at Elon College, where he led the school to three straight conference titles and the 1973 NAIA national championship game. (That loss was to Abilene Christian, which was quarterbacked by future Dallas Cowboy Clint Longley.)
West also owns the United States patent (as well as international ones) for what's known as the West Vest, a popular chest protector that helped launch a line of umpire gear he sells through two websites, majorleagueumpires.com and umpirejoewest.com. The West Vest Gold Chest Protector retails for $157. The West Vest Umpire Mask, with deerskin padding, sells for $82.
Replay shows the umpire's right more than 95 percent of the time. Other sports, many have bodies flying all over the place, and in some ways they're not as easy as baseball to call. But there's no tougher job of officiating than working home plate in a baseball game. You've got to be consistent with the strike zone, to be correct from the first pitch and get better as the game goes along.
I was asked a question a long time ago by a reporter, ‘What's your toughest call?' My answer was, ‘Your next one.' That's basically how I look at it. No matter how good you are in the past, you have to be as good or better going forward.
The many faces of Joe West:
Strike 3 call:
To check out other installments of Better Know An Umpire, click here.