Joe West has been a major-league umpire since 1976. Earlier this season he broke Bill Klem’s longstanding record for most games umpired, and now, he’s announced that he will retire after the 2021 postseason:
West, 68, broke the record for most games umpired, held by Bill Klem, when he was behind the plate for No. 5,376 in May.
“Breaking the record was the goal,” West told ESPN on Monday. “I thought I would do it last year but the season got a little messed up and I don’t think it was right to work until the point of the record then just quit.”
West is a controversial figure, no question about it. Truth be told, though, he’s actually a pretty good ball-and-strike umpire and generally does a good job. I think the reason people dislike him so much is that he always appears to want to be part of the show, while in my view the best umpires are the ones you don’t notice
This Washington Post article by Matt Bonesteel chronicles what Bonesteel describes as West’s “greatest hits,” including an incident involving Andre Dawson at Wrigley Field July 23, 1991 in which Dawson was called out on strikes by West in the bottom of the seventh and was ejected. This is what happened:
West ejected Chicago Cubs right fielder Andre Dawson for arguing a called third strike during a 1991 game, causing Dawson to lose his mind and the Wrigley Field fans to litter the outfield with cups. After Dawson tossed several bats onto the field from the dugout, MLB suspended him for a game and fined him $1,000.
Here’s the entire scene:
Andrew Bagnato of the Tribune reported what happened:
The usually quiet Dawson erupted when West called him out on strikes in the seventh inning. Dawson thought the pitch was perhaps a bit wide. West disagreed, then waved the enraged slugger away.
“What I was really waiting for was for his manager to get there, but he didn’t come,” West said. “I said, ‘This has gone on long enough. If you want to stay in the game, go sit on the bench.’”
Dawson opted not to. As teammate George Bell tried to restrain him, Dawson bumped West, then flung his batting helmet and bat to the ground.
“He definitely bumped into me,” West said. “That was a flagrant offense, and it will be reported.”
Dawson insisted any contact was unintentional.
The next day, Bagnato wrote:
Dawson, with the full support of Cubs management, blamed umpire Joe West for trying to “intimidate” him during a heated argument over a called third strike.
As noted above, Dawson was given a one-game suspension, which he chose to appeal. He later dropped the appeal and sat out the Cubs’ 9-2 loss to the Pirates September 17.
Back to Joe West — West will be the plate umpire and crew chief for tonight’s NL Wild Card Game between the Cardinals and Dodgers. It’s possible he might return for a later postseason series, but he is not assigned for the Division Series round.
Here is the boxscore from the first game in which West served as the plate umpire, September 16, 1976 between the Braves and Astros, and the first game in which he was the plate umpire for a Cubs game was April 15, 1978 at Wrigley Field.
However you feel about Joe West, his departure from baseball will certainly be the end of an era.