August 10, 2017

Boggs's Anecdote Reveals Umpire Joe West Is A Power-Abusing Asshole

Umpire Joe West was recently suspended for three games because of his comments about Adrian Beltre of the Rangers. When USA Today asked him to identify the biggest complainer in baseball, West said: "It's got to be Adrian Beltre."

West continued:
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."
After the suspension was announced, Beltre told reporters that when the two men talked during a game in early July, West claimed he was merely kidding. The extent to which West talks about Beltre leads me to believe he was not joking. (West's comments were published on June 20. I'm not sure why it took until early August for MLB to react to them.)

From what I can find online, it looks like Beltre has been ejected from a game only twice in the last four seasons (since the start of 2014): August 23, 2015 and July 26, 2017. The most recent ejection was for moving the on-deck circle, not arguing a call. West was not involved in either ejection.

The West suspension was brought up during NESN's broadcast of Wednesday's Red Sox/Rays game by Dave O'Brien. Beltre played for the Red Sox in 2010 and O'Brien said he had no recollection of the third baseman being a chronic complainer when it came to umpires' calls. (I don't either.)

Wade Boggs, working alongside O'Brien in the booth, found it "mind-blowing" that suspending West for his comments would even be considered. He then related a story he had heard about West earlier that day, on ESPN. "Calling balls, I think John Smoltz said it, he would throw a ball right down the middle and Joe West would call it a ball just to see the pitcher's reaction."

That anecdote is also mentioned in the USA Today article. Smoltz says: "Joe was infamous, or famous for testing out a pitcher early in the game. He would call a ball that was a strike to see if you were relaxed, or cool with it, to see how you'd react."

It was hard to tell what point Boggs wanted to make with this story. Was he saying that West was just another colorful character in the game's history or was he saying that West was an asshole who abused his power, changing the rules of the game as he saw fit, someone who was willing to play tricks and mind games with the hitters (or pitchers) simply to amuse himself?

O'Brien noted that West, as one of the umpires during the 2004 American League Championship Series, was instrumental in overturning two incorrect calls that had initially gone against the Red Sox in Game 6 in Yankee Stadium. Mark Bellhorn's three-run homer was called a double by left field umpire Jim Joyce before the umpires talked it over and ruled (correctly) that the ball had been hit over the fence. And when Alex Rodriguez slapped the ball out of Bronson Arroyo's glove while running to first base, West (the home plate umpire) was the guy who made sure that Rodriguez was guilty of interference.

O'Brien said "Red Sox fans should always remember Joe West very fondly."

Despite West's efforts at making sure the calls were correct in 2004 (he also called Dave Roberts safe at second in the ninth inning of Game 4), I have very little respect for West. I don't think he should get any extra praise from Red Sox fans simply because he did his job correctly. The fact that he didn't allow an obviously wrong call to stand and thus possibly change the outcome of the game (and series) is good, but that's what he is supposed to do. That's what's we expect him to do.

On April 8, 2010, West called the Red Sox and Yankees "a disgrace to baseball" for playing games at a slower pace than other teams. "They're the two clubs that don't try to pick up the pace. ... Why are they playing the slowest? It's pathetic and embarrassing. They take too long to play." (West had finished working a series between the two teams in which the games lasted 3:46, 3:48, and 3:21.)

Several players were not amused. Dustin Pedroia: "If he doesn't want to do Red Sox and Yankee games, he should tell the umpires' union." Mariano Rivera: "If he has places to go, let him do something else." Jonathan Papelbon: "If you don't want to be there, don't be there. Go home. Why are you complaining. I'm not going to sit somewhere I don't want to be."

In 2015, Fox Sports ran an article on 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 article also mentions that West "made a highly questionable, game-ending call on Opening Day" and then stubbornly refused to ask for help.

In 2014, West was suspended for one game for making contact with Papelbon (he grabbed his jersey), when the pitcher was with the Phillies. That story mentions that West was also disciplined for shoving Joe Torre in 1983 and may have been punished for wrestling with Dennis Cook in 1990.

Michael Rosenberg, Sports Illustrated, July 20, 2017:
Look: We know you're getting paid $25 million a year, but before you step into the batter's box and try to hammer a fastball, you're damn well going to say hello to Joe West.

You have no choice. If you don't greet him before your first plate appearance, West will hold up the game. He is the only umpire who does this, but so what? ... There is a reason Royals reliever Peter Moylan splits the umpiring profession into two groups: "There's umpires, and there's Joe West."

Other umpires work games; West controls them. ... Arguing with West directly is just as futile. When Ron Gardenhire managed the Twins, he went to dispute a call, and West warned him, "Don't step in my dirt." He meant the dirt around home plate. Gardenhire put one foot on it and was ejected before he opened his mouth. ...

West says "the best thing ever" is that "Major League Baseball spent $40 million to put in a system that proves we're 99% right." Players don't view it that way. They have seen the future, and they want to get there ASAP. One American League pitcher says his teammates talk about an electronic strike zone "at least once a series. There are probably a lot more people for the electronic strike zone now than aren't. I'm sure in the rule book it doesn't say, 'Joe West's strike zone is this or Angel Hernandez's strike zone is this.' People want to know exactly where things are." ...

"I think, as in everything in this country, there's not the respect for the official that there was when I started," West says. "And I think that's a failure of our system, not so much baseball, but the way of life. People don't respect authority like they used to. ... They're there to help you."
At the end of the USA Today article, West offers advice to young umpires. It's no surprise that his advice is the exact opposite of how he has conducted himself on the field for years:
I tell them your first responsibility is to the game of baseball ... The second is to your profession ... And the third is to do in your heart what you know is honest, moral and correct.

1 comment:

FenFan said...

Nice article, Allan. West cannot retire soon enough and robot calling balls and strikes cannot come soon enough.