June 20, 2017


Judge, jury and executioner: The ballad of 'Cowboy' Joe West (Jeff Passan, 6/20/17, Yahoo Sports)

See, when Joe West is behind the plate and a fresh-to-the-big-leagues kid in the batter's box, West expects the rookie to introduce himself. Do that, West said, "and next time up you can call me a [expletive]." Don't do that, West said, and it's just disrespecting the game.

"A lot of problems we have today as umpires are based on how society brings up people," West said. "When I came to the big leagues, if a player got out of line, the umpire took care of it right then. Our umpires coming out of the minor leagues - they're not letting them take care of it. A player will come to the big leagues not knowing what he's supposed to do."

Lest you think West is simply a graybeard who wants things to be how they once were, it isn't true. He loves instant replay. Seriously.

"The best thing that ever happened with replay is the umpires get to review their work and everyone else's and learn from things done correctly and mistakes that are made," he said. "They'll sit in there and dissect the play. I think it's been great for the game. The funny thing about it is baseball spent $40 million to prove we're 99 percent right."

But ...

"When we put in replay, I thought there would be no arguments," West said. "The first year we put in replay, ejections went up 20 percent. Baseball is a funny game. It's typically American. If you don't succeed it's someone else's fault. And the first person you want to look at is the official. Just look at our last election. When Hillary lost, it's someone else's fault. The Russians. Wikileaks. It's the fact you couldn't stand up and say I lost. Nobody in today's society wants to say I wasn't good enough. Baseball is a game of failures. The last hitter who hit .400 is dead and gone. There isn't going to be another of those. For anybody to think this is a perfect game, they're kidding themselves. Let's be honest: How do you hit a round ball with a cylindrical bat square."

That is Joe West. That, in 141 words, is him being thoughtful, bombastic, brash, exaggerated, contemplative and introspective. That is 40 years of marriage between a titan and the game he loves. And to see Joe West as anything but a fundamental part of nearly half a century of baseball would be wrong. The game was what it was, is what it is, because of Joe West.

It's impossible to say whether there will be another of him because he is an archetype: the principled belligerent. West believes in the end. The means are malleable. If it takes him running a guy to make his point, he runs him. If it takes him grabbing Jonathan Papelbon's jersey - something for which he earned a one-game suspension and near-unanimous praise throughout the game for putting a boor in his place - then grab he will.

Posted by at June 20, 2017 7:03 PM