It’s Time for Cowboy Joe West’s Last Rodeo
Major League Umpire Joe West, known as Cowboy Joe, has had quite a 2010 season. He has come under a storm of criticism for his outspoken comments on the pace of play, his handling of recent ejections of White Sox player and manager, and his one-man instant replay during a game this weekend in which he dished out 3 more ejections. You literally need a scorecard to keep up with Joe’s escapades. Through his behavior, Cowboy Joe, seen in full ejection pose to the right, has once again helped re-define the terms “rabbit ears” and “short fuse”.
My ire for Cowboy is admittedly long standing. It started when I watched him body slam Phillies’ Dennis Cook to the ground during an on-the-field melee. West went way over the top on that play and has tried to outdo himself ever since.
Joe fancies himself a Country and Western singer and has recorded an album. He has his own website and is well known for excessive self promotion. What Joe has consistently done is interject himself into games as the center of attention–the cardinal sin of umpiring. Great umpires never get noticed.
As a counterpoint, you recently saw an outpouring of affection for fellow umpire Jim Joyce. The response for Joyce resulted from his career as a well-respected umpire who was a straight-up guy, antithetical to West’s PR sideshow.
Cowboy Joe was recently fined by MLB for his actions in the White Sox game and drew the wrath of both Ozzie Guillen and TV analyst Ken Harrelson (see video below).
Bruce Weber, author of recent book on Umpiring, As They See ‘Em: A Fan’s Travels in the Land of Umpires takes West to task because of West’s public complaining about the pace of games
Joe was right about one thing. The Yankees and Red Sox are the two best teams in baseball. What he doesn’t seem to comprehend is that the reasons those clubs carry such stature is becauseplayers on both teams don’t swing at bad pitches, they work deep into counts, and quickly run up the pitch totals of superior starters to eventually beat on inferior bullpens. Adopting this overall philosophy of patience at the plate is one of the biggest differences between the powerful, plodding, and ultimately unsuccessful Red Sox and Yankees teams of the 80s and early 90s and the Theo Epstein/Brian Cashman teams of today. (That and seven combined World Series championships in the last 15 seasons.)
On another level, the humorous irony in West’s comments cannot be ignored. One of the main reasons games are longer today than they were in the past — beyond intelligent plate discipline — is the smaller strike zone that umpires like West call (the former much a product of the latter). In the “old days” a hitter was ingrained with the cliché axiom of “swinging at anything close” with two strikes. In the modern game, hitters have been encouraged by the shrinking of the strike zone to take more pitches because they can. If the umpires called more strikes, hitters would take fewer pitches and the game would inevitably move faster, plain and simple.
West’s latest adventure came on Friday night when he became a self-appointed, one-man instant replay.
Here is what happened as reported by Federal Baseball.
Ian Desmond lines to left, and it drops in, Josh Willingham scores!! 3-2 Nats. Wil Nieves gets a sac bunt down, Bernadina to third, Desmond to second. Willie Harris flies to short center, Bernadina scores, the throw gets by home and the Reds’ pitcher Rosario fields and fires to third, too late to get Desmond, but the Nats’ SS’s foot comes off the bag and he’s tagged by Scott Rolen. From the other side of the field, First Base Ump “Country” Joe West reverses the call after a huddle by the Umps. (ed. note – “It was the right call.”) Desmond’s tossed for tossing his helmet, Nats’ third base coach Pat Listach is furious, and the Nats are up 4–in essence, becoming a self-promoted, one-man instant replay.
Even though the call was right, I find this is highly ironic for those still ruminating about the “safe” call in the Armando Galarraga “Imperfect” game. Not to ever let publicity die down, West went on to eject two more Nationals, Manager Jim Riggelman and Pitcher Miguel Batista during Saturday night’s game.
Enough is enough! Cowboy Joe West should take a page from fellow C&W artists Brooks & Dunn and commence a Last Rodeo Tour immediately before Major League Baseball schedules it for him.
Here is Ken “Hawk” Harrelson’s rant on the Cowboy