MLB Umpire Joe West is the exact opposite of what I think an umpire should be. He challenges players on calls that are borderline and ejects them when they argue. He sometimes changes the strike zone as he sees fit and is subjective in that choice. He’ll play up a double-standard because of a stupid grudge.
He’s, for the most part, the bad guy in a wrestling match and MLB has let him play that role for a while because it’s brought attention to the game. I can kinda see that, but when you have an umpire who’s doing this sort of thing to draw attention to himself, as West apparently does, it’s annoying. Everyone suffers, from players to managers to franchises to the fans themselves. And why? So we can stir a debate?
This past week, West ejected manager Ozzie Guillen after he argued West over a questionable balk on Mark Buerhle. West called the balk a second time, even more questionable, and after Buerhle threw his glove down on the ground (at no one in particular), West ejected him.
So it’s obvious someone’s got an attitude problem, and it’s not Guillen or Buerhle.
Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports wrote this today and it is beautiful:
He is a presence in games, and that is the problem. The only place for an umpire is at the bottom of the box score. When one jumps into the game story, he has done one of two things: blown a call or picked a fight with someone. That West specializes in both says everything about him.
Here’s the thing: If West were a good umpire – if he didn’t parlay his three decades in the sport into plum postseason gigs that somebody of his caliber simply does not deserve – much of what he does wouldn’t be as objectionable. Ed Hochuli, the NFL referee whose ripped physique has made him a cult hero, is beloved because he maintains professional excellence alongside his other endeavors. West’s professional negligence makes him all the more a cartoon character.
MLB doesn’t have nearly the perception problem with umpires that the NBA does with its referees. It doesn’t want one, either, and so its move to muzzle West is appropriate. The Yankees and Red Sox do push pace-of-play boundaries; they also provide the greatest rivalry in the sport, and fans who appreciate good baseball are willing to sit through extra time as long as the drama remains. West should’ve apologized and moved on. His targeting of Buehrle – pitchers get called for multiple balks about once a decade – was the vindictive sort of call that cements his reputation.
Undeterred, West’s diarrhea of the mouth continued. He had CDs and gear to sell, a website to push, a brand to promote. Attached to the latest e-mail from his publicist were 11 pictures, just in case one or two weren’t enough. It also included a funny subject line: “The Real Joe West.”
Like everyone doesn’t already see him for what he is.
Passan took a very strong stance against the umpire and I commend him for it. I don’t think anyone is asking for an omnipotent umpire who can tell the difference of a ball or strike by a fraction of an inch, but someone who doesn’t hold grudges, doesn’t eject players for minor issues and can call a game fair and even.
No umpire can be objective, and we have to accept those limitations. Lamenting an umpire’s call on a ball or strike when it’s so close to the border it would be impossible to tell to the naked eye is as silly as lamenting a ground ball base hit. But asking for fairness and professional behavior isn’t much.
Passan makes a great point about Ed Hochuli. Guns is respected. He admits when he makes bad calls and tries to correct his mistakes. Part of the problem is that very few people would be willing to take the position of a major league umpire. It demands a lot and you get a lot of heat for it. Because of that, it attracts people who are very firm in their beliefs that what they do and what they say is correct. But it’s time for that to end. Baseball needs some fresh umpiring and needs it now.
Release Joe West already.