Venerable umpire Joe West is a safety liability to himself and, as was revealed last night, others. Though he is unable to move in the manner required to be an umpire, he’s actually maintained a pretty decent game out there as far as balls/strikes and safe/out is concerned. The interpersonal stuff remains a problem as no one has enjoyed the limelight from a place of authority as much since Ed Hightower hung up his sneakers.
Few things compare to when this singing cowboy goes viral, usually because he’s inserted himself into a place he didn’t need to be or failed to utilize any of the helpful de-escalation techniques learned through years of seminars. One can either get really upset about it — and many do — or just embrace the absurdity as evidence of the randomness of human existence.
And for those in the latter camp, here’s an extra cool trick to throw into the process: remember that West, who you may exclusively know as an ornery guy always mixed up in something that makes you actively dislike baseball, will more likely than not eventually be enshrined in Cooperstown as a Hall of Famer.
There are currently 10 umpires in the hallowed Hall; the last, Hank O’Day, gained entry in 2013 through the Pre-Integration Era Committee. The previous nine were selected by the Veterans Committee. And the boys in blue should be celebrated.
They are an important part of the game. Without them it’s not much of a game as fights would break out after every pitch. Skillfully reading 100 mph bullets with insane movement is a testament to the majesty of the eye and intense repetition.
West is an institution. He is second all-time in games worked, been at the center of more memorable moments than almost any official, and has done the near-impossible: force the masses to learn the name of an umpire. Sure, some people don’t really care for his on-field performance as of late, of but all glory fades.
I’m not a West fanatic (and really, is anyone?), but I do believe that I can make a non-trolling case for him to get a Hall of Fame nod. In eras past he’d be remembered as a larger-than-life figure, a mythical presence who inspired anecdotes. Being able to see these in real time and participate in the backlash — as well as the overall erosion of interest in being associated with authority — has taken some of the air out of his sails.
But honestly, it’s nice to see him out there still working games at 66 and doing God knows what else. Baseball is desperate for wild-cards and not all put on the spikes. Some polish up the loafers and fiddle with a clicker.
Enjoy your latest foray into consciousness for all the wrong reasons, Joe. See you in Cooperstown for what promises to be a polarizing weekend sometime down the road.