Joe West (umpire)
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Joe West Umpire

Joe West
Joe West 2011.jpg
West in 2011
Born: (1952-10-31) October 31, 1952 (age 68)
Asheville, North Carolina
September 14, 1976
Crew Information
Umpiring crew2
Crew members
Career highlights and awards
Special Assignments

Joseph Henry West (born October 31, 1952), nicknamed "Cowboy Joe" or "Country Joe", is an American professional baseball umpire in Major League Baseball (MLB). Born in Asheville, North Carolina, he grew up in Greenville and played football at East Carolina University (ECU) and Elon College. West entered the National League as an umpire in 1976; he joined the NL staff full-time in 1978. West has worn uniform number 22 throughout his career. As a young umpire, West worked Nolan Ryan's fifth career no-hitter, was on the field for Willie McCovey's 500th home run, and was involved in a 1983 pushing incident with manager Joe Torre. On May 25, 2021, West broke Bill Klem's all-time record by umpiring his 5,376th game.

West was the home plate umpire during the 1988 playoff game in which pitcher Jay Howell was ejected for having pine tar on his glove. In 1990, he threw pitcher Dennis Cook to the ground while attempting to break up a fight. West resigned during the 1999 Major League Umpires Association mass resignation, but was rehired in 2002. Since then, he has umpired throughout MLB. In a 2004 playoff game between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, West's crew made a controversial decision that necessitated police presence to calm the crowd. He served as crew chief for the 2005 World Series and officiated in the 2009 World Baseball Classic.

In 2010, West attracted media attention after he publicly complained about the slow pace of a game between the Red Sox and Yankees. He also worked the game that year in which Albert Pujols hit his 400th career home run. West has worked several no-hitters, including a 2012 perfect game by Félix Hernández. West has appeared in six World Series, three All-Star Games, ten League Championship Series (LCS), eight League Division Series (LDS) and three Wild Card Games.

West was president of the Major League Baseball Umpires Association (MLBUA) through 2018. As the organization's president, West helped negotiate the largest umpiring contract in baseball history. He works with a sporting goods company to design and patent umpiring equipment endorsed by MLB. West is also a singer and songwriter and has released two country music albums. He had a small acting role in the comedy film The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! and a cameo appearance in the television crime drama The Oldest Rookie. He plays golf on the Celebrity Players Tour.

Early life

West was born in Asheville, North Carolina, in 1952. He grew up in Greenville, North Carolina, where he played youth baseball and football. He graduated from JH Rose High School in Greenville.[1] West played safety on the freshman football team at East Carolina University (ECU) in 1970 and he was a quarterback for Elon College (now Elon University) from 1971 to 1973.[2][3] He intended to play his college football career at ECU, but head coach Mike McGee resigned after his freshman year, prompting West's transfer.[4]

While in college, West hoped to play both baseball and football. However, spring practice for football interfered with West's ability to be on the baseball team as well. He concentrated on football and umpired high school baseball games on the side.[4] In his three seasons at Elon, West was the starting quarterback and the team won three conference championships. He was named Most Valuable Player (MVP) on the 1973 team that lost the Division I National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics title game to Abilene Christian; the Abilene Christian team was led by future professional football players Clint Longley and Wilbert Montgomery. West left Elon holding three passing records that were not broken for 20 years, and was inducted into the Elon Sports Hall of Fame in 1986, in the same class as former North Carolina State women's basketball coach Kay Yow.[2]

Umpiring career

Early career

While umpiring locally as a college student, West met Carolina League umpire supervisor Malcolm Sykes, who recommended that West attend an umpire training school. West went to umpire school and graduated at the top of his class. He worked in several minor-league circuits (the Western Carolinas League, Puerto Rican League, Florida Instructional League, Southern League and American Association) before he was promoted to the major leagues.[4] West made his first National League (NL) appearance in 1976 and joined the full-time NL staff in 1978.[2]

In his first season as a full-time MLB umpire, West umpired the game in which Willie McCovey hit his 500th career home run. In the same year, he was at first base when Pete Rose tied the NL record for most consecutive games with a hit, and he was the home plate umpire when Rose broke it the following day. In 1981, West worked first base for Nolan Ryan's fifth career no-hitter.[5] On October 13, 1981, West was 28 when he became the youngest NL umpire to call an LCS.[2] In 1983, West was suspended for three days and fined US$500 after a shoving incident with Atlanta Braves manager Joe Torre. The manager became angry at the end of a game and followed West into the walkway outside the umpires' dressing room. West then shoved Torre. On appeal, NL President Chub Feeney reduced West's fine to $300. Torre also received a fine stemming from the incident.[6]

Middle career

West made his second NLCS appearance in 1986. He umpired his first All-Star Game in 1987.[2] On September 28, 1988, West was on the field when Orel Hershiser set the MLB record for consecutive scoreless innings pitched.[7] West returned to the NLCS in 1988 and was the plate umpire when Dodgers pitcher Jay Howell was ejected for having pine tar on his glove.[8]

During a 1990 on-field brawl between the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Mets, West attempted to break up the fight by throwing Phillies pitcher Dennis Cook to the ground. The matter ultimately was handled among West, NL President Bill White, then-Commissioner Fay Vincent, and the umpires' union.[9] West said White supported his actions in the brawl, but White quickly issued a statement saying he had prohibited West from making further physical contact with players. White was reported to have nearly resigned due to lack of support from Vincent, but the NL president remained in his post after receiving support from league owners.[10] West met more controversy the next year when Chicago Cubs outfielder Andre Dawson bumped him after a called third strike during a game at Wrigley Field. After Dawson was ejected from the game, he walked back to the dugout and tossed 14 bats onto the field. Chicago fans threw debris onto the field, causing a delay in the game. Dawson received a one-game suspension and a $1,000 fine.[11] On his check to the league, Dawson wrote "donation for the blind".[12]

In 1992, West made his first World Series appearance when the Atlanta Braves faced the Toronto Blue Jays. West was behind the plate in the first World Series game played in Canada and ejected Braves manager Bobby Cox for throwing a helmet onto the field.[13] In 1993, he appeared in the NLCS. He worked another no-hitter on April 8, 1994, when Kent Mercker shut down the Los Angeles Dodgers. The 1995 NLDS was West's first League Division Series. The following year West worked in the NLCS. He returned to the World Series in 1997 when the Cleveland Indians faced the Florida Marlins.[2]

In 1999, West was among 22 MLB umpires who engaged in mass resignations during a labor dispute.[14] The strategy backfired when MLB simply accepted the resignations instead of entering into further negotiations with the umpiring union.[15] The union filed charges against MLB with the National Labor Relations Board, saying the mass resignation was "a concerted action protected by law".[15] After arbitration and appeals, MLB settled with the union. A few umpires received severance pay and were allowed to retire under the settlement, but West and several other umpires were rehired by MLB in 2002.[14]

Since rehire

In the same year, he returned to the field, West worked in the ALDS. He also umpired in the 2003 and 2004 ALCS. In game six of the latter series, West's crew ruled Yankees batter Alex Rodriguez out for interference after Rodriguez appeared to swat the ball out of the glove of opposing pitcher Bronson Arroyo on his way to first base. Fans threw debris on the field, Red Sox manager Terry Francona pulled his team off the field, and NYPD officers in riot gear took to the field to calm the crowd. West said fans actually applauded the umpires for the correct call when they came onto the field the following day.[16] West's first All-Star Game and World Series appearances after his rehire came in 2005; that year he umpired in his second ALDS and his third World Series, serving as World Series crew chief.[2]

West (left) ejects Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillén in 2007.

West was the home plate umpire when rookie pitcher Clay Buchholz threw a no-hitter against the Baltimore Orioles on September 1, 2007, at Fenway Park; West called a curveball strike three for the final out.[17] He worked his 4,000th career game on July 30, 2009, at Miller Park in Milwaukee, Wisconsin; he ejected Washington Nationals manager Jim Riggleman from the contest.[5] That same year he appeared in the American League Division Series and the World Series. He was also elected president of the World Umpires Association (WUA).[18] West and the union's governing board negotiated the largest umpiring contract in the history of MLB. The contract ran from 2010 through the 2014 season. West designed the chest protector sold commercially as the West Vest, now marketed by Wilson Sporting Goods.[19] He holds patents on the West Vest in the US, Australia, Canada, and Japan. He also designed Wilson's high-end umpiring gear, the only umpiring equipment endorsed by MLB.[2]

In 2010, West sparked controversy by criticizing the slow pace of the recently completed series between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, which he called "pathetic and embarrassing".[20] Red Sox manager Terry Francona referred to the remarks as "troubling", while Yankees closer Mariano Rivera remarked, "If he has places to go, let him do something else."[21] Columnist Wallace Matthews defended West, saying the umpire was simply expressing what people had been thinking for a long time.[22] West was not fined by MLB for his comments, but was "admonished firmly," according to press reports.[23] On May 26, 2010, West made two controversial balk calls on Mark Buehrle and consequently ejected White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen for arguing and Buehrle for throwing his glove.[24] On August 26, 2010, West was the plate umpire for Albert Pujols' 400th career home run.[25]

On September 14, 2014, West ejected Jonathan Papelbon for the lewd act of adjusting his groin, resulting in a confrontation where West grabbed Papelbon's jersey.[26] MLB subsequently suspended Papelbon for seven games for his lewd act and West for one game for initiating contact with Papelbon, marking the first umpire suspension since Fieldin Culbreth's May 2013 suspension for misapplication of baseball rules and the first on-field misconduct suspension of an umpire since Bob Davidson's May 2012 suspension for situation handling violations related to his ejection of Phillies Manager Charlie Manuel.[27] West later claimed Papelbon had initiated first contact,[26] but Major League Baseball determined that the video replay showed West was not correct, and that the contact was initiated by West.[28]

West (center) before a May 2015 game

West umpired in his second NLDS (and fifth LDS) in 2011. The next year West was the first base umpire for Félix Hernández's August 15 perfect game against the Tampa Bay Rays.[29] He umpired another NLDS that year, then appeared in his fifth World Series. His career has spanned the tenure of baseball commissioners Bowie Kuhn, Peter Ueberroth, Bart Giamatti, Fay Vincent, Bud Selig, and Rob Manfred.[2] The 2015 season was West's 38th in MLB, making him MLB's most senior umpire.[2] Umpire Bruce Froemming, who was previously the most senior umpire, spent 37 seasons in MLB, retiring at the end of the 2007 season.[30]

On August 9, 2017, West was suspended for three games after making inappropriate comments towards Adrian Beltre.[31]

In the bottom of the first inning of Game 4 of the 2018 ALCS, a deep drive and potential two-run homer to right field by Houston's José Altuve, which Boston's Mookie Betts nearly caught with a leaping grab at the wall, was ruled by West to be an out due to fan interference. West, the crew chief for the series, made the call from his right field position; the call stood after review by video replay.[32] The call was widely discussed in coverage of the game and on social media such as Twitter.[33][34]

On August 14, 2019, West umpired his 5,164th Major League Baseball game to move past Bruce Froemming in terms of the number of major league games officiated.[35] Only Bill Klem, who umpired 5,369 from 1905 to 1941, had called more games than West.[36]

On October 22, 2019, West filed a defamation lawsuit in New York against Paul Lo Duca and Action Network over comments that the former New York Mets catcher made on a podcast in April 2019. On the podcast Lo Duca recalled his teammate Billy Wagner telling him in 2006-2007, "Joe loves antique cars so every time he comes into town I lend him my '57 Chevy so he can drive it around so then he opens up the strike zone for me." In the complaint, West denies this and says he has suffered unspecified damages as a result of Lo Duca's comments.[36][37]

On July 30, 2020, while umpiring the Washington Nationals-Toronto Blue Jays game, West was hit on the side of the head when Bo Bichette lost his bat. He left the game in the bottom of the first inning but returned in the top of the third as the third base umpire.[38]

On May 25, 2021, West surpassed Bill Klem's record by umpiring his 5,376th career game, in a contest between the White Sox and Cardinals at Guaranteed Rate Field.[39] West has announced his intent to retire following the 2021 season.[40]


West has been mentioned in several polls of MLB players. In 2006, the spring after he was crew chief in the World Series, a Sports Illustrated survey asked 470 MLB players to identify the best and worst umpires. West was identified as the best MLB umpire by 2 percent of those players, ranking him ninth on that list. With respect to the worst umpire, 6 percent of players in the survey selected West. Only three umpires were named more frequently as the worst umpire in the survey.[41] A 2007 review of umpire strike zones by The Hardball Times determined that West was the most consistent umpire in the major leagues.[42]

In a 2010 poll of 100 players, West ranked as the second-worst umpire in the league.[43] In a 2011 players poll, West was named the best MLB umpire by 5 percent of players polled, placing him fifth. However, he was named the worst umpire in the same poll by 41 percent of players polled.[44]

In a 2019 study by Boston University's Mark T. Williams, West was identified as the umpire during the 2018 season with the second worst percentage of bad calls. Over West's last eleven years, he has averaged 21 incorrect calls a game, or 2.3 per inning.[45]

Outside baseball

West is known outside umpiring as a singer-songwriter. His involvement in country music and his demeanor on the field have earned him the nickname "Cowboy Joe".[46] West has described his music as "two chords and the truth. ... It's simple. It tells a story."[47] In 2009, West said of his music pursuits, "I was lucky. You know, the dues you have to pay to get here as an umpire are long and tedious, but the music business, because I was already in the major leagues, kind of opened a lot of doors I normally wouldn't have been able to open."[5]

West has appeared at the Grand Ole Opry.[5] He has performed with Mickey Gilley, Johnny Lee, and Merle Haggard.[48] West served as a pallbearer for Boxcar Willie.[46]

West released his first album, Blue Cowboy, in 1987. Blue Cowboy is an album of three original songs and five covers. Chuck Yarborough of the Cleveland Plain Dealer said, "Listening to the first excerpt of his "Blue Cowboy" made me balk--you'll pardon the expression--at listening to the second. But I did. And the third. And so on. And now? Well, if I'm Nashville, I run West outta the game. The Hook. The Heave-Ho. The Thumb."[49] In a September 2012 review, music blog Long After Dark said, "Blue Cowboy easily ranks with Ron Artest and Carl Lewis as one of the worst albums that a sports figure has cut ... ever. I can say that I managed to make it through the record, although it was not easy."[50]

He released Diamond Dreams in 2008. The album was a collaboration with Kent Goodson, pianist for country star George Jones. It tells baseball stories inspired by West's umpiring career.[46] Goodson later said, "As I look back on how this CD came together, I realize that I am a musician and Joe is an umpire. But his love for music and my love for baseball bonded us in this project."[51][52] Sportswriter Doug Miller said that the album was "a fun, humorous and often touching collection of spoken-word gems in which the listener gets a perfect sampling of the true personality of Cowboy Joe West".[53]

West has made one film appearance, playing a third base umpire in the 1988 comedy film The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad![5] He also made a cameo appearance on the television crime drama The Oldest Rookie,[54] An avid golfer, West appears on the Celebrity Players Tour.[2]

Personal life

West married Jean Jo Masons on December 25, 1988.[55] In 2012, West was diagnosed with laryngeal cancer, now in remission.[56]

See also


  1. ^ "Umpire Told to Stay Out of Player Fights". Wilmington Morning Star. August 30, 1990. Retrieved 2013.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Umpires: Roster - Joe West". Retrieved 2012.
  3. ^ West, Joe (March 27, 2005). "Spring Ball With a Special View". Star-News. Retrieved 2013.
  4. ^ a b c "The Life of an Umpire Enjoyable for Joe West". Spartanburg Herald-Journal. February 6, 1986. Retrieved 2012.
  5. ^ a b c d e "Ump West works 4,000th game". ESPN Internet Ventures. Associated Press. July 30, 2009. Retrieved 2012.
  6. ^ "Feeney Reduces Ump's Fine for Torre Incident". Milwaukee Sentinel. July 13, 1983. Retrieved 2012.
  7. ^ The Official Major League Baseball Fact Book 2002. The Sporting News. 2002. p. 502. ISBN 0-89204-670-8.
  8. ^ "Pine tar gets Dodgers' Howell into a very sticky predicament". The Bulletin (Bend). October 9, 1988. Retrieved 2012.
  9. ^ Chass, Murray (September 5, 1990). "Baseball; White-Umpire Dispute Is Defused by Vincent". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012.
  10. ^ "Bill White Got Owners' Support He Wanted". Bangor Daily News. September 13, 1990. Retrieved 2012.
  11. ^ "Cubs' Dawson Receives 1-Game Suspension". Milwaukee Sentinel. July 30, 1991. Retrieved 2012.
  12. ^ Bagnato, Andrew (September 19, 1991). "Essian Pep Talks Take 2 Approaches". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2012.
  13. ^ Hohlfeld, Neil (October 21, 1992). "Jays' Candy spoils Braves' appetite 3-2". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved 2012.
  14. ^ a b "Six more will split $2.3M in severance pay". ESPN Internet Ventures. Associated Press. December 24, 2004. Retrieved 2012.
  15. ^ a b Chass, Murray (August 4, 1999). "Umpires File Charges Over Their Lost Jobs". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012.
  16. ^ Ropeik, David (September 28, 2005). "Men in Black (Or Light Blue): Umpiring Much More Than Just Balls and Strikes". Retrieved 2011.
  17. ^ Ulman, Howard (September 2, 2007). "Rookie Buchholz pitches no-hitter in second career start". Yahoo! Sports. Retrieved 2012.
  18. ^ Miller, Doug (April 7, 2009). "West elected president of umpires". Retrieved 2012.
  19. ^ West, Joe. "Umpire Equipment". Joe West Co. Retrieved 2011.
  20. ^ "Umpire Joe West Blasts Yankees, Red Sox Over Slow Pace Of Play". Sports Business Daily. April 8, 2010. Retrieved 2010.
  21. ^ Edes, Gordon (April 10, 2010). "Francona calls comments 'troubling'". Retrieved 2012.
  22. ^ Matthews, Wallace. "Ump should be praised, not punished". Retrieved 2013.
  23. ^ "Joe West Admonished Over Yankees, Red Sox Pace Of Play Comments". Sports Business Daily. April 12, 2010. Retrieved 2012.
  24. ^ "Two balks lead to two ejections". Retrieved 2016.
  25. ^ "Box Score, St. Louis at Washington, August 26, 2010". Union-Tribune Publishing Co. Archived from the original on February 3, 2013. Retrieved 2013.
  26. ^ a b Bacharach, Erik (September 14, 2014). "Papelbon ejected after gesture to crowd". Major League Baseball. Retrieved 2014.
  27. ^ Imber, Gil (September 17, 2014). "Suspension: Joe West Suspended for Papelbon Incident". Close Call Sports & Umpire Ejection Fantasy League. Retrieved 2014.
  28. ^ Fordin, Spencer (September 17, 2014). "Umpire West suspended one game for contact with Papelbon". Major League Baseball. Retrieved 2016.
  29. ^ "Felix Hernandez throws perfect game, overpowers Rays". August 15, 2012. Retrieved 2012.
  30. ^ "Bruce Froemming". Retrosheet. Retrieved 2016.
  31. ^ "Umpire Joe West suspended 3 games for comments towards Adrian Beltre". ESPN. Retrieved 2017.
  32. ^ Blackburn, Pete (October 17, 2018). "Red Sox vs. Astros: Controversial fan interference plays huge role in first inning of Game 4". CBS Sports. Retrieved 2018.
  33. ^ Chesterton, Eric (October 17, 2018). "Relive the madness of the Mookie Betts fan interference in ALCS Game 4 with these tweets". Retrieved 2018.
  34. ^ Young, Matt (October 18, 2018). "Kate Upton tweets displeasure with umpires from her seat at Astros game". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved 2018.
  35. ^ "Umpire Joe West works 5,164th game -- the second most in major league history". StarTribune. August 16, 2019. Retrieved 2019.
  36. ^ a b "Umpire Joe West Files Defamation Suit Against a Former Player". New York Times. October 24, 2019. Retrieved 2019.
  37. ^ "MLB umpire Joe West suing former All-Star Paul Lo Duca for claiming he took bribes". October 22, 2019. Retrieved 2019.
  38. ^ Acquavella, Katherine. "MLB umpire Joe West temporarily leaves Blue Jays-Nationals game after getting hit in head with bat". CBS Interactive. Retrieved 2020.
  39. ^ Cohen, Jay (May 25, 2021). "Joe West breaks umpiring record with 5,376th game". AP. Retrieved 2021.
  40. ^ Owens, Jason. "MLB umpire Joe West wins $500K defamation suit against ex-player who accused him of rigging strike zone". Verizon Media, Inc. Retrieved 2021.
  41. ^ "SI Players Poll". Sports Illustrated. June 20, 2006. Retrieved 2011.
  42. ^ Imber, Gil. "After Video Review, Umpire Crew Perfect in San Francisco Games". Bleacher Report. Retrieved 2012.
  43. ^ "Joyce tops survey; players nix replay". June 13, 2010. Retrieved 2010.
  44. ^ Rosecrans, C. Trent (August 17, 2011). "Poll: Joyce best umpire, West the worst". Retrieved 2012.
  45. ^ Williams, Mark (4 April 2019). "MLB Umpires Missed 34,294 Ball-Strike Calls in 2018. Bring on Robo-umps?". BU Today. Boston University. Retrieved 2019.
  46. ^ a b c Simonetti, Kristin (Winter 2010). "Behind the Mask - Joe West '74". E-Net News & Information. Elon University. Retrieved 2012.
  47. ^ Hinton, Steven (July 22, 2008). "Umpire Joe West Is Living The Dream". Retrieved 2013.
  48. ^ Heyman, Jon (April 9, 2010). "Umpire's inappropriate rant sheds light on a growing problem". Retrieved 2012.
  49. ^ Yarborough, Chuck. "As a country singer, Joe West is a good umpire". Retrieved 2013.
  50. ^ "The Weirdest Album I Have Ever Bought: Joe West's Blue Cowboy". Long After Dark. Retrieved 2013.
  51. ^ "Diamond Dreams". Retrieved 2013.
  52. ^ "Baseball Has a Heart, and Joe West Lets you Hear the Heartbeat". September 4, 2011. Retrieved 2013.
  53. ^ Miller, Doug. "Veteran ump makes a country call". Retrieved 2013.
  54. ^ Carree, Chuck (January 14, 2011). "Major league ump has plenty of history to share in homecoming". Star News Online. Retrieved 2012.
  55. ^ "Joe West - Biography - IMDb". IMDb, Inc. Retrieved 2021.
  56. ^ Seaberg, Abigail. "MLB Umpiring Legend and Throat Cancer Survivor Joe West Breaks Baseball's Umpiring Record". Retrieved 2021.

Further reading

External links

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