My Two Cents: On the Remarks of Umpire Joe West

Jeffrey BrownAnalyst IApril 9, 2010

Major League Baseball is concerned with the time it takes to play games, believing that the sport is suffering because games take nearly three hours (on average) to play. For the last four or five years, the league has attempted to address the issue, going so far as to implement measures designed to pick up the pace of the game, including reducing time between pitches and the hitter’s ability to step out of the batter’s box.

But apparently, umpire Joe West doesn’t think the Red Sox or Yankees care to cooperate.

West, who served as the crew chief of the Sox-Yankees series this week, was queried the other night after home plate umpire Angel Hernandez denied a batter’s request for a timeout on three separate occasions. He lit into the players on both clubs.

In what can only be described as a diatribe, he referred to the length of games between the arch-rivals as “pathetic and embarrassing”. He criticized the players on both teams, saying, “They’re the two clubs that don’t try to pick up the pace. They’re two of the best teams in baseball, so why are they playing the slowest?”

The criticism was inappropriate. First and foremost, West is an official of the game and should not be publicly criticizing and editorializing about the stars of the game. Sorry, Joe, but the game is all about the players, not the bloody umpires…so keep your mouth shut and umpire the freaking games!

Second, observers will now wonder whether he allows his viewpoint to color the way in which he calls a ballgame. A close pitch? A strike will keep the game moving along—even if it is a few inches outside the strike zone. A bang-bang play at first base? Out! Even if the runner was there just a nanosecond before the ball hit the glove…that extra out keeps the game moving along.

In a world where sports fans have seen ballplayers cheat (PEDs) and umpires cheat (the NBA), this is precisely what baseball did not need—an umpire giving fans a reason to question his on-field rulings for no other reason than he felt the need to shoot off his mouth!

And for what purpose? Does he really think anyone cares about his personal opinion?

Third, Red Sox-Yankees games are long because the players on these two teams are among the best in the business. The hitters are the best because of the patience they show, the number of pitches they see, and the fact they get into the opponent’s bullpen early in the game. Are they supposed to stop doing what makes them successful because Joe West thinks they should? Are you kidding me?

The bottom line is the player’s patience means there will be more pitches thrown (let’s say, 40 pitches per game at 25 seconds per pitch) and more pitching changes made (let’s say, four additional changes at five minutes per change). Those two factors add another half-hour for each game.

Is it that West doesn’t want to bend over for the extra half-hour? Or is it that he doesn’t like the fact the buffet is getting cold as the game progresses?

Whatever the case, the game is about the players, not about Joe West or Angel Hernandez or the rest of their ilk. We don’t watch games to watch the umpires, we watch games to watch ballplayers. And I believe they should do whatever it is that makes them successful, without feeling pressured to change because a loud-mouthed umpire thinks they are too slow.

One final note: It was an amazing indictment from Fat Joe. Several years ago, Philadelphia manager Nick Leyva criticized him publicly, saying: “He’s unprofessional. Ninety percent of (the umpires) are pros, but he’s not. He’s the exception… I don’t appreciate his attitude… He knows how to ump, he knows what he’s doing. But he’s got this macho thing - he’s got to show everybody that he’s boss.” Leyva went on to characterize West’s attitude as arrogant.

It seems the more things change, the more they stay the same.

In response to Leyva’s comments, Richie Phillips (then-head of the umpires union) complained to then-National League president Bill White, stating that such public criticism was inappropriate.

Ohhh, but it’s okay for West to publicly criticize the ballplayers, huh?

Apparently West, who fashions himself a country-western music star, cannot bear to be in a situation where the spotlight is NOT on him. Apparently, he felt he had to do something—anything!—to be the center of attention.

Arrogance. That’s a REALLY good word for it.