Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

MLB Umpire West Needs Wakeup Call

It’s April, and that means this: Yours truly finally has an excuse to write about Major League Baseball games. My personal Winter of Discontent is o-vah, the Sox are back, and the whole Yankees-getting-their-World Series-rings business is done. It is officially time to let the Kevin Costner side of this column shine. (If you haven’t seen the film after which this space is named, I recommend that you do. Great flick.)

About a week ago, I had a good feeling about the 2010 baseball season after Boston came back and beat CC Sabathia at Fenway on Opening Night. But then, three things suddenly combined to rain on my parade. One: Everyone freaked out that David Ortiz was hitless after the first two games of the season. My reaction: Really, people? Give the guy a break, even Ted Williams went 0-for-7 to start a season once.

Two: Curtis “I-hit-.249-last-season” Granderson hit his second home run of the series in extra innings of the rubber match to win it for the Yanks. My reaction: Figures.

But worst of all, three: After sacrificing my mid-week homework, papers and studying to watch the final two games of the series, umpire Joe West had the nerve after Thursday’s game to complain to reporters about the slow pace at which the Red Sox and Yankees tend to play their games.

My reaction: Hey Joe, take a hike.

I have a real issue with West’s words about the length of the games in this rivalry. As reported by The Bergen Record (N.J.), West said: “They’re the two clubs that don’t try to pick up the pace. They’re two of the best teams in baseball. Why are they playing the slowest? It’s pathetic and embarrassing. They take too long to play.”

West also called the two teams “a disgrace to baseball” and grumbled that the players “aren’t working with [the umpires].”

First of all, West himself is a disgrace to baseball if he really believes that the two most storied franchises in the league – and arguably the best two teams in the league this season – are “pathetic,”embarrassing” or “a disgrace to baseball.” If given the opportunity, I hope that he would admit that his comments were over the top.

Regardless, his remarks made it to print and the front page of, and players and coaches from both sides were not happy.

“It’s incredible,” Yankees closer Mariano Rivera said. “If he has places to go, let him do something else. What does he want us to do, swing at balls?”

(Mariano doesn’t actually swing at anything during the course of a game, but I’ll let that one go in the interest of my argument.)

Asked about West’s statements, Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia said, “To call the Yankees and Red Sox, two of the best teams in baseball, `pathetic’ and `embarrassing,’ that’s just ridiculous. If he doesn’t want to do Red Sox and Yankee games, he should tell the umpires’ union. Then when we’re in the World Series, he’ll be out of that assignment, too.”

You tell ’em, Dustin.

“What he doesn’t understand is that when we don’t do well in these games against the Yankees, we get killed. So if I’m going to take a deep breath and focus before I get in the box, I’m going to do it. There are a lot of good hitters on both teams, a lot of pitches thrown. That’s just the way these games are played.”

I don’t know if I can put it any better than the greatest closer of all time or the 2008 American League MVP, but I’ll try.

What’s hardest to believe about West’s comments is the reckless way in which he insulted two of the organizations that enable him to have a job to do in the first place. Looking past that, he does have an argument – even if it’s wrong.

West and other umpires are judged by the league, in part, for the speed at which the games they work move along, giving him a professional incentive to prevent four-hour odysseys. Over the winter, the league impressed upon the umpires the importance of trying to keep the games going at a faster pace than in past years, either by refusing to allow timeouts to batters during their plate appearances or by calling balls against pitchers who take too long to make their next delivery. All of the above are legally allowed in the MLB rulebook.

Ignoring the fact that I believe the league’s instructions to the umpires are inherently wrong, West and his crew didn’t even use the strategies available to them during the series in Boston. Angel Hernandez, one of the most in-your-face umpires in the league, did deny timeouts to batters several times in one of the games, but pitchers did not throw to the plate when hitters stepped out regardless of whether an official timeout was granted. Even widely respected Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, who practices his timeout stance every time he steps to the plate, was denied by Hernandez at one point.

Pedroia was asked what he thought of the umpire’s decision to not allow Jeter time.

“Ridiculous,” he said.

So the umpires don’t use the rules to enforce faster play nearly as often as they could, and when they do, the players don’t want to listen. Joe West could learn something from both of these ideas.

First, he has no right to moan and groan about slow games when he and his fellow umpires do not consistently enforce the rules of the game that are intended to raise the tempo. If he doesn’t want to be at the ballpark all night, he can call a wider strike zone on a consistent basis instead of widening the strike zone on 3-0 or squeezing it on 0-2, which studies have shown umpires tend to do. Call the low strike. Call the high strike. There are plenty of things West and other umpires can do if they want to get back to their hotel rooms so quickly, but they simply don’t do them.

Earth to Joe West: The games are not going to get any shorter all by themselves.

Second, if the players on the two best baseball teams in the league are showing that they don’t want to play at a faster pace, then why compromise their performance by rushing them? Maybe the Red Sox and Yankees take their time to play games against each other because they actually realize how important the games are. Both squads are noted for their superior plate discipline; they take a lot of pitches because it makes baseball sense to keep the opposing pitcher’s pitch count high and make him work for every out. Other teams simply don’t do that as well.

The batters from both teams are the cream of the crop, and so are the pitchers that they face every night in this rivalry. They play the game better than other teams do, and it takes them more time to do that. It’s just the nature of good baseball. This is the big leagues, not tee ball.

As Pedroia remarked, he needs “to take a deep breath and focus” in order to play his best and make his fans happy. When he goes 0-for-4 against the Yankees, he gets burned by the media and the fans afterward. If a player says that he can better his performance – and thereby the overall quality of the product on the field that the public pays to watch – by taking 15 seconds to reset in the batter’s box, then Joe West ought to wait for him.

I don’t know about you, but as a Red Sox fan, I don’t mind watching a great game between my favorite team and its archrival for four hours, so I don’t buy the idea that West is championing the cause of the fan who is too tired to stay up and watch the end of a Red Sox-Yankees game. I realize that many baseball fans – and even some Red Sox and Yankees fans – disagree with that. Frankly, I don’t care what they think, and the TV ratings show that most of them watch the games anyway.

If you’re a fan who agrees with Joe West, you’re probably not a Red Sox or Yankees fan. And if you are, then you just don’t get what Red Sox-Yankees means. In either case, feel free to watch your teams play other games and get your beauty rest.

Red Sox manager Terry Francona politely called West’s statements “troubling.” He has left it to the players, media and fans to make of them what they will. I find West’s attitude to be much more than troubling. It makes me question whether he belongs on the field if he’s so unhappy to be there or disdains the players that he umpires so much. Maybe he needs to watch a certain Kevin Costner movie. Maybe he just isn’t in it for the love of the game.

Connor Gregoire is a freshman in the College. For Love of the Game appears in every other Friday issue of Hoya Sports.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All The Hoya Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *