Joe West loves the spotlight. His love of that spotlight occasionally interferes with his actual job of working Major League Baseball games as an umpire. He got his moment in the bright lights organically Wednesday night when he ruled Jose Altuve’s flyball to deep right field was not a home run, but rather an out due to fan interference.
No replay could provide evidence to reverse the call. It may have been the correct call or it may have been highway robbery, depending on your perspective. With time, I’m starting to think that West got it right, that the fan did reach into the field of play and interfere. It wasn’t the guy’s fault, of course, and the incident was facilitated by a shortsighted seating chart that allows this type of 50-50 play to happen.
One thing I’m confident of, though, is West’s confidence. And that a certain level of confidence is required to make a call like that against the home team. It’s a moment cynics would claim West relishes. There’s no way to prove it, of course, but it’s a pesky little thought.
For all the static West takes, baseball needs umpires who have the backbone and nerve to call a fair game. To not be swayed by a hostile crowd. And it takes a little attitude to be an umpire like that.
Lost in all this is the fact West worked one of the best games I’ve ever seen a home plate umpire work in Game 3. The metrics back that gut feeling up. West called 159 out of 160 pitches correctly, for a rate of 99.4 percent. He did it without becoming the star of the show. On the biggest stage, he delivered.
Then, because baseball is unpredictable, he became the story while working the right-field line. Not since Rich Garcia or Phil Cuzzi have we seen that. West was almost perfect, and few noticed. He engendered controversy by taking two runs off the board in what turned out to be a two-run game. He would have caused controversy had he ruled it the other way.
Nobody’s perfect. Not even Cowboy Joe, when forced into a highly imperfect situation.