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Joe West: Colorful Umpire or Major League Annoyance?
I must say, I was going to just let this go, but after Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga lost a perfect game bid to a blown call with two outs in the ninth inning, I have to say something to the umpires of Major League Baseball: just call the game. Since the beginning of the season, umpires have found themselves in more sticky situations than usual, even when instant replay was supposed to resolve a whole bunch of controversy for the men in blue.
The main culprit in this fiasco is the well-known Joe West. A long time veteran of the baseball diamond, West first caused controversy by calling the 3:30 per game Red Sox-Yankees series a disgrace to baseball. Only a short time ago, West was once again in the headlines when he gave White Sox Manager Ozzie Guillen and pitcher Mark Buehrle a quick hook on a contested balk call.
West is not alone in his exploits, however. In a recent Astros-Nationals game, umpire Bill Hohn ejected Astros ace Roy Oswalt after the pitcher told Hohn he wasn’t arguing with him over balls and strikes, just making a comment to his own dugout. Umpire Laz Diaz also scuffed away chalk from a foul line that gave physical evidence to his call of a foul ball being incorrect.
With the blown call tonight, that’s five pretty interesting stories generated by major league umpires this season, people whose job it is to stay quiet aside from the occasional strikeout call. Granted, while Jim Joyce (hopefully) didn’t intend to ruin the perfect game, his actions will be under the magnifying glass thanks to 24-hour sports media.
It is thanks to things like this that major league umpires like West and Laz Diaz are becoming celebrities in their own right. West has gone so far as to hire a publicist and to create Country-Western albums.
While these umps get all the attention, however, the real praise should go to umpires out their like the Welke brothers and Gary Darling, who deserves the spotlight with a name that rhymes with a Springsteen song. These umpires just go along, calling the games as they see them without all the fame of umpires like West. The Welke brothers, for instance, were part of the crew calling Roy Halladay’s perfect game last Saturday. Afterwards, there was no post-game interview for the umpires, and the only video appearances the crew made were in the background of highlights from the Phillies and Marlins.
Now, with all that being said, I can’t say that umpires should lose all character. There have been umpires in the past who kept their integrity as an umpire while being unique. One of those umpires was the late Eric Gregg, who was known for getting vocal with managers and messing around with the Phillie Phanatic in between innings in Philadelphia. Gregg never changed his strike zone to garner attention, he just had a notoriously large zone.
The job of the major league umpire is to stay out of the limelight and call the game, that’s it. Umpires don’t need publicists, and they don’t need quick hooks to get a little attention. With the way things are going fans should look out, we might not be too far away from the famous scene from the Naked Gun series.
-Tom Hagan ’11