Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Umpire Joe West Officiates 5,000th Regular Season Game

Blue Cowboy and MLB Umpire Joe West officiates his 5,000th game in regular season action, a Diamondbacks-Rockies affair in Colorado on June 20, 2017, over 40 years removed from West's first taste of the big leagues during an Astros-Braves doubleheader on September 14, 1976.

Umpire Joe West reaches 5,000 MLB games.
Ever since his debut as the third base umpire in Atlanta 14,889 days before regular season Game 5000, West's mark on the Majors has been significant.

From his 173 career ejections (including Father's Day, that's one for every 29 games worked) to his two All-Star Games and 17 postseasons officiated, West's contributions to baseball span from designing and patenting the West Vest chest protector to serving as President of the World Umpires Association union. His 40 years of Major League service time is an MLB record, and would have been greater had West not missed the entire 2000 and 2001 seasons due to the infamous mass resignation collective bargaining strategy of 1999. His career began under Commissioner Bowie Kuhn and, five Commissioners later, reached Rob Manfred's tenure (the six Joe West-era commissioners are Kuhn, Peter Ueberroth, Bart Giamatti, Fay Vincent, Bud Selig, and Manfred).

A veritable entertainer, West won the UEFL Ejection of the Year Award in 2013, 2014, and 2016.

Joe West hit by a foul ball during a 2014 game.
Born on Halloween, October 31, 1952 in Asheville, North Carolina, Joseph Henry West grew up playing baseball (catcher) and football (safety and quarterback), leading Elon College's football team to three conference titles and a second-place national ranking while earning an MVP nod for his efforts.

After a minor league career beginning in 1974 that included stops at the Carolina, Southern, and American Association leagues, West joined the National League and, at the age of 23 years old, was one of the youngest umpires to have ever worked a regular season Major League game, and, at age 28, was one of the youngest to work a League Championship Series.

West attributes his staying power, in part, to advice from Hall of Fame umpire Doug Harvey (aka "God"), explaining that as a young umpire, West would get upset when managers or players would argue with him. Harvey said, "Don't let them ruin your day. You're having a good day. If they give you trouble to kick them out, kick them out. But don't let it ruin your day." West called it "the greatest piece of advice I've ever been given."

Inducted into the Elon Sports Hall of Fame in 1986, West went on to design all high-end umpiring gear for Wilson Sporting Goods, including the West Vest, and continued his country music journey while developing his professional baseball umpiring career, performing at the Alameda County Fair, North Carolina State Fair, BoxCar Willie Theater, and Grad Ole Opry.

Joe West on the cover of Blue Cowboy.
West appeared on the former country music talk show "Nashville Now" and scored a role as third base umpire in The Naked Gun film alongside umpires Hank Robinson and (the fake) Enrico Pallazzo aka Frank Drebin aka Leslie Nielsen, who ejected both Robinson and West in one of the most iconic comedy baseball scenes to feature an umpire in cinematic history. He also appeared in the television crime drama "The Oldest Rookie."

West's Blue Cowboy music video was broadcast during an NBC baseball telecast, and his two albums remain available for sale on West's website, umpirejoewest.com.

In June 2016, several Dodgers players used tracks from Joe West's Blue Cowboy and Diamond Dreams CDs as walk-up music during a game in which West was the home plate umpire. In 2015, "Blue Cowboy" and "Cole Younger" could be heard at Chavez Ravine during an umpire discussion courtesy of organist Gil Imber, while Fenway Park organist Josh Kantor has also played West's music in tribute to the real-life Blue Cowboy.

Up next for Country Joe is Bruce Froemming's 5,163 games worked, followed by all-time leader Bill Klem, who officiated 5,375 National League games from 1905 to 1941. West would like to reach and surpass Klem's mark, even if it takes him until 2020 to do so: "That would be fun. If my knees hold up, I'd like to do that...Yeah, that would be quite an accomplishment." Said crew mate Hunter Wendelstedt, "That's an achievement that will never happen again. And that's guaranteed. It will not be able to happen again [due to replay center work and vacations]."

West knows of his controversial status with fans, and he's okay with that: "I just go out there and do my job the way it's supposed to be done. Sometimes that creates confrontation. But I don't think umpires should back down or run away from a situation. If you see a rattlesnake, you don't turn your back on it. That's kind of the way I like to portray this. You cannot back down as an umpire. You can't be scared as an umpire. You have to do what's right."
 Alternate Link: Video tribute to Joe West's 5,000 regular season games as a big league umpire (CCS)

We have over 60 previous posts tagged "Joe West" on the website, which include Replay Reviews, ejections, and miscellaneous Umpire Odds & Ends. Click here to revisit these "Joe West" posts.

Fast Facts - Joe West's umpiring career
First Game - September 14, 1976 (HOU-ATL; 23 Years Old)
First Ejection - September 8, 1977 (PHI-NYM; Steve Henderson & Joe Torre)
First Postseason Game - October 13, 1981 (MON-LA [NLCS])
First All-Star Game - July 14, 1987 (3B)
First World Series Game - October 17, 1992 (TOR-ATL)
First HR Video Replay (as -cc Reviewer) - May 23, 2009 (Nauert; In Play Reversed to HR)
First Expanded Replay Review (as Calling) - April 5, 2014 (Out/Safe [Tag - Home]; Confirmed)
Most Recent Ejection - June 18, 2017 (Jeff Banister; HBP Call; QOC = Correct-Crewmate)
West plays himself in The Naked Gun.

Most Games Umpired, Major League Baseball History
1) 5,375 - Bill Klemm (retired, Hall of Fame umpire)
2) 5,163 - Bruce Froemming (retired)
3) 5,000 - Joe West (active)
4) 4,770 - Tommy Connolly (retired, Hall of Fame umpire)
5) 4,673 - Doug Harvey (retired, Hall of Fame umpire)

Most Years Umpired, Major League History (AL, NL, and/or MLB)
1) 40 - Joe West (active)
2) 37 - Bruce Froemming (retired)
2) 37 - Bill Klemm (retired, Hall of Fame umpire)
4) 36 - Gerry Davis (active)
5) 35 - (Six Tied)

West ejects former Twins skipper Gardenhire.
Most Postseason Games Umpired, MLB History
1) 133 - Gerry Davis (active)
2) 123 - Joe West (active)
3) 111 - Bruce Froemming (retired)
3) 111 - Jerry Crawford (retired)
5) 103 - Bill Klemm (retired, Hall of Fame umpire)

Most World Series Games Umpired, Active Umpires
1) 34 - Joe West
2) 29 - Dana DeMuth
3) 28 - Jeff Kellogg

Postseason and Special Events History, Umpire Joseph Henry West
World Baseball Classic: 2009
All-Star Game: 1987, 2005, 2017
Wild Card Game: 2013, 2014
Division Series: 1995, 2002, 2005, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2016
Championship Series: 1981, 1986, 1988, 1993, 1996, 2003, 2004, 2013, 2014
World Series: 1992, 1997, 2005, 2009, 2012, 2016


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