Monday, April 12, 2010

There Might Be Some History Between Mo And Joe West

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?


  1. Jason from The Heartland4/12/10, 10:45 AM

    Utterly fascinating Matt and, while anecdotal, I would hope that this gets picked up for further consideration and speculation. I'm glad you recalled it and, considering how you treated your own account problematically (acknowledging the possibility of inaccuracy), that actually lends credence to your story--what you said but crucially how you said it.

    West has a history of being unbelievably petty, a prima donna of an umpire. Players and managers get fined for criticizing umpiring, yet umpires like West get to not only share their opinions, but do so noxiously without reproach. There are ways to speed up the game without resorting to be a zero. I'm glad that Mariano, Jeter, and to a degree Pettite had something in response to say in order not to kowtow to West (or any umpire). Also, West's comments might have had the effect of prior restraint had the Yankees not voiced their objections. Good for them.

  2. Wow, that's a helluva story. I had just kind of assumed that Mo didn't much care for West because he (West) is such a buffoon, and Mo does not suffer fools well or something. Your story strikes me as plausible though.

  3. Joe West needs to shut his fat fucking mouth or quit upiring and go eat cake and ice cream. Doesn't he know that this is the most important and greatest rivalry in all of sports? I hope he gets fired.

  4. Matt from NY4/12/10, 12:26 PM

    Regardless of whether Joe West's point was correct or not, I feel it's not an umpires place to publically vocalize it.

    Mo tends to be the quintessential class act. I heard his response to West. I do not disbelieve the story above. I just have a hard time believing Mo would waste his energy on holding a grudge. But then again, everyone's human...even demi-gods like Mo.

  5. Great story and very intriguing with the analysis. You know the saying, ''One's a data point, two's a trend.'' It'll be very interesting to see where, if anywhere, this goes.

  6. Thanks for the comments all. It is highly speculative. I hemmed and hawed a bit about exactly how to frame it, because I didn't want to fall into Post or Daily News style sensationalization.

    That said, I think it's a unique story, and it's something worth passing along, so I'd tried to present it at face value.

    That said, my recollection already has a hole in it. As best as I can research it, until Game 6 of last year's World Series, Joe West had never worked the plate in a post-season game at Yankee Stadium during which Mo appeared. He did work the plate during one of Mo's ALCS appearances in Boston.

    So, to borrow a phrase from Roger Clemens, I've either mis-remembered the location of the game, or incorrectly assumed that it was a post-season game West was referring to.

    I too would find it very un-Mo-like to for him to carry a grudge, but again, when pondering a reason why Mo acted uncharacteristically in this situation, this story came to mind.

    I think West was well out of line with comments. There is some validity to them, but as an umpire, and as the President of the World Umpires Association, he needs to act more responsibly than that. No one likes games the drag on and on, but I'd rather win long than lose quickly. And that's what it boils down to for both these clubs. If West wants to do something about it he should start by re-examining his own strike zone.

  7. You know, I notice that lost in all of this "controversy" is that the Yankees and the Red Sox are continually at the top of (or very near to) the league's best. So while this veteran umpire wants to complain about the games running too long (yes, they do), but is it isn't iilegal, then this whole thing is a moot argument. Yeah, it's annoying to have an umpire make public statements, but so what. Is THAT the worst thing he can say? Oh, he called both of us embarassing and pathetic...well, those words go nowhere with anyone and I think they actually undermine his argument.

    But MY point is, hey maybe other teams should not be in such a hurry to play the games. Baseball is very much a strategy game and without a doubt, the Red Sox and Yankees take their time to get it right. Mistakes are made when you speed up. Sure, i think they could speed up the games, but they know how important each game is so they have to play smart with EVERY move. The AL East is stacked. So whatever, bitch all you want, Mr. West... the Red Sox and Yankees qwill still be in the postseason like they almost always are. Coincidence they are considered the top 2 teams? I would submit "Not".

  8. Just an FYI - Joe West is behind home plate right now at the Phillies/Nationals and just called the last two apparently blatant strikes, balls. Now I'm listening not watching but I figured I would pile this on to today's Joe bashing. The National's announcers are mad and are going off on his comments about the pace of the game now.

    AND NOW Jim Riggleman, the Nats manager just got ejected for fighting him on the calls, after the missed calls led to the Phillies scoring.