The old cliche says that you never notice the umps until they screw something up. And for the most part, I think that's right. The men in blue take a lot of flack when they get something wrong, and it seems to me that the level of anger directed at them has been growing recently. But generally speaking, I think they do a good job. If we need a super slow-mo instant replay from three different angles before we can tell, I think we can cut them a little slack on the close ones.
What isn't quite so easy to stomach is when an umpire chooses to make himself less inconspicuous. Certain umps like to get a little too emphatic with their punch outs. At the opposite end of the spectrum, Tim McClelland is notoriously slow and nonchalant when behind the plate. Tuesday night saw Balking Bob Davidson nearly lose his mind in tossing Carl Crawford and Joe Maddon after an indefensibly bad strike call.
And of course, Cowboy Joe West has been having a quite a 2010 for himself. While West is usually the one with the poor strike zone while Davidson calls the balks, the two apparently chose to reverse roles this week. By now you've certainly heard of West's two balk calls on Mark Buehrle yesterday, leading to West tossing Ozzie Guillen and then Buehrle. As Rob Iracane at Walkoff Walk rightly points out, the two balk calls may have been borderline, but West within his rights to call them. And while I can understand Buehrle's frustration after getting hung up twice on something many other pitchers get away with, he didn't help his case by drawing a line in the dirt after the first and dropping his glove in frustration after the second. You can debate whether or not his ejection was deserved, but it certainly shouldn't be surprising.
What's most disturbing though is that circumstantial evidence is mounting that West's repeated appearances in the news may not be accidental. On the heels of yesterday's debacle in Cleveland, word leaked that West will be working this weekend's series between Boston and Kansas City. It will be West's first series with Boston since his early season comments about their pace of play. Normally umpiring crews are not publicized by MLB in advance of a series, and this one is no different. How then did this information become public? Through Joe West's publicist of course.
This is the real problem here. Regardless of how poorly regarded West is as an umpire, regardless of his confrontational history as an umpire, I'm willing to cut him some slack as an arbiter of the game. I can understand why West, with a side career as country singer, might retain a publicist to support that endeavor. But there's absolutely no way that any umpire or any official within Major League Baseball should be publicizing his upcoming series. His job as an umpire is to be invisible, not to intentionally draw attention to himself.
Buehlre may face a fine for his actions yesterday. Ozzie Guillen will certainly be fined and possibly even suspended for his actions and for his hilarious, and likely truthful, postgame rant. And that's fine. I don't begrudge those two the actions they took but they took those actions knowing full there are consequences for them. Now they'll be held accountable, but accountability is a two way street.
I understand that MLB cannot publicly admonish, fine, or suspend Joe West. But at this point, with his comments on the pace of play, with his look-at-me actions during yesterday's game, and with his inexcusable press release, Major League Baseball has to do something about Joe West.
West is in his 32nd year as a Major League umpire. He'll be 59 by year's end and isn't exactly the fittest fella on the field. This past off-season, MLB had no qualms with quietly showing the door to longtime umps Randy Marsh, Ed Montague, Rick Reed, and Charlie Relaford, as well as even longer-tenured supervisors Marty Springstead, Rich Garcia, and Jim McKean. After his antics through the first two months of 2010, MLB would be very wise to do the same with Joe West after this season.