Good morning Fackers. The first week of the season is in the books, and for all the gnashing of teeth over Javy Vazquez' performance Friday, slow starts by Mark Teixeira and Nick Johnson, and Marcus Thames' defense, things are pretty good. The Yanks went 4-2, on the road, against what figures to be their two toughest opponents in the American League.
Off the field, the week's big story was the comments long time umpire Joe West made to the Bergen Record regarding the pace of Yankee-Red Sox games. To me though, the most surprising part of the story was not that a veteran umpire would publicly single out two teams for their pace of play, but that Mariano Rivera, who's about one hundred times more likely to blow a save than he is to court controversy, was the first player to respond to West's comments, and that he responded harshly.
I was pondering all of that as I did some yard work Saturday morning. While I don't disagree with Mo at all, I found it highly uncharacteristic of him to speak out like that. Then I thought back to a story told to me a couple years ago.
The morning after the Giants defeated the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, I boarded a plane to Phoenix. I was a day late and several hundred (thousand?) dollars short for the feature event, but had a business trip planned nonetheless.
I was staying at a resort in Scottsdale, and one night upon returning there, I decided to hit up the hotel bar for a night cap. As I entered the lobby, I observed several signs adorned with the MLB logo, reading "Welcome Umpires". As it turned out, the World Umpires Association was holding their annual meeting there.
Entering the bar, I met Marty Springstead, a long time American League umpire who retired in 1985 but worked as an umpiring supervisor until his termination this past off-season. Springstead was a friendly guy, and introduced me to a few of the other men in blue who were in the room: Richie Garcia, who made the infamous call on the Jeffrey Maier home run and later lost his job as part of the mass umpire resignations of 1999; Jim Wolf, brother of Brewers' pitcher Randy Wolf; Derryl Cousins, and Jim West.
Now, my recollection of that evening isn't exactly airtight, and it was a brief conversation. But in light of the comments made by West and Rivera last week, I think it's worth recounting here.
I spent a few moments speaking with West and Cousins. When it came up that I am a Yankee fan, West immediately told a story of a playoff game in Yankee Stadium during which he worked the plate. If I recall correctly, West made some comments as to the pace of the game. What I do specifically recall is West saying that late in the game Joe Torre summoned Mariano Rivera from the bullpen.
Apparently, Mo squeezed in a couple extra warm up tosses in the pen after he had been waved in. So when he got to the mound, West indicated to Mariano that he was only allowed six warm up tosses, rather than the customary eight. When Mariano protested, West informed Mo that he was docking him the two extra pitches thrown in the pen. West also made a comment indicating that such gamesmanship was common practice with Mariano.
Clearly, this is just one story, about one game. But why would Joe West, upon meeting a complete stranger, at the mere mention of the Yankees, amongst all the stories he had accumulated in twenty nine years of umpiring, choose that story to tell? And why would Mariano Rivera, after fifteen years in the daily cauldron of the New York media, with all the various issues and controversies that have surrounded the Yankees during that time, choose Joe West's comments about the pace of play as the one issue about which to speak out? Could it be that there's more history between these two than meets the eye?