In June, on the occasion of becoming just the third major-league umpire ever to work 5,000 games, Joe West sat for a wide-ranging interview with USA Today, and one of the questions asked who believes is baseball’s biggest complainer.
“It’s got to be Adrian Beltre. Every pitch you call that’s a strike, he says, ‘Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!’ I had a game with him recently and the pitch was right down the middle. He tells me, “that ball is outside.’
“I told him, ‘You may be a great ballplayer, but you’re the worst umpire in the league. You stink.”
You know...he’s not wrong. For as much as we all love Adrian Beltre, he does say “outside” when he takes a pitch. But this is good stuff. Player-umpire relationships, even the adversarial ones, are an interesting, largely unseen part of the game. It’s rare that players give honest opinions on the umps they like and don’t like; it’s even rarer that the umpires share their thoughts on the players.
It’s rare for a reason. On Tuesday night, MLB announced that West is suspended for three games for his comments to USA Today, which gave the “appearance of lack of impartiality.” And I understand that, to an extent—MLB can’t countenance the appearance that an umpire is biased toward or against any individual players, or might make calls involving them any differently.
But common sense says this is an overreaction—both West and Beltre said he was just joking. Beltre even spoke out against the suspension:
“I don’t think the suspension was necessary,” Beltre. “I know he was kidding. I didn’t think it was a big deal. It’s sad that it happened. I guess it was just some miscommunication.”
The World Umpires Association, the union representing West, put out a statement:
“Joking interactions between umpires and players are a routine part of the game. We disagree strongly with the decision to punish Joe West simply for sharing a humorous exchange with a player.”
It’s hard to get too mad, because, again, I see MLB’s logic in needing to draw a line in the sand. But at this point, what’s the point? Did you even remember West’s comments? Did you even know about them in the first place? Just let it go. There are plenty of other reasons to hate Joe West.