Joe West has been doing this for quite some time.
The 64-year-old from Greenville, North Carolina made his major league debut back in 1976 and joined the National League staff full time just two years later. He’s currently finishing up his MLB-record 39th season, making him the most tenured umpire in the game today.
Tonight, for Game 6 of the 2016 World Series, he’ll toss his cup on, strap up his shinguards and squat behind home plate for what will surely be upwards of 4 hours.
It’s probably going to suck.
West has a pretty well earned reputation for being a “look at me” umpire. You know, one of the guys in blue that thinks the fans in the stands came to the game that night in hopes of being filled with wonder and astonishment at their ability to interpret and execute the rules of Major League Baseball. Like little boys in their back yard have their dads throw fastball after fastball on the outisde corner so they can practice their punch out in their youth medium light blue polos and dark gray slacks.
One would assume that, on the biggest stage possible, with one of the most storied matchups in recent memory, this reputation will be on full display.
All we can do is hope that it’ll suck just a little less for the Indians than it does for the Cubs. Here’s a few reasons why that could happen.
Josh Tomlin & Jake Arrieta career numbers with West
While neither pitcher has an enormous sample size, here’s their career numbers when Joe West is behind the dish:
Not great to the naked eye. While Tomlin has surrendered two less hits than Arrieta and has a better WHIP, he’s given up a whopping 5 home runs in just over 13 innings on the mound.
Because I’m incredibly nervous for tonight and also I hate myself, I went a little deeper and looked at the game logs from each pitcher’s two starts. Tomlin’s start in September 2010 saw him surrender 3 runs in 6 IP. The good news is that he didn’t give up his first run in that game until Mike Napoli, of all people, took him yard in the bottom of the 5th inning. His other start with West behind the plate was in 2011. 4 earned in 6.2 innings. But again, he didn’t give up a run in that one until the bottom of the 6th.
Shorter version for Arrieta:
2010 – 1 ER in 6.1 IP, run scored on a single in the 2nd inning
2015 – 3 R 2 ER in 6.2 IP, first run scored on a ground out in the 2nd inning.
What does this mean? Probably nothing. But as we’ve seen in these playoffs, if we get a lead early, our bullpen arms can come in and turn a 9 inning game into a 4 or 5 inning game. Tomlin has been able to last that long without giving up a run with Joe West as his umpire in the past. Jake Arrieta hasn’t.
Recent history between Joe Maddon and West
Back on September 12th, Cubs pitcher Kyle Hendricks lost a no-hit bid when he gave up a solo dinger to Cardinals outfielderJeremy Hazelbaker to lead off the bottom of the 9th inning. When the Cubs infielders huddled up to console him/buy time for Aroldis Chapman to get loose in the pen, Joe West promptly broke it up. Maddon did not like that.
Turns out Cubs legend Kerry Wood did not like that either.
Now all this isn’t to say Tito hasn’t had a spat or two with West himself. In fact, just over a month before the video above, Joe gave Terry the heave-ho after voicing his displeasure about a check swing call.
Let’s just hope that Maddon tiff is fresh in Joe’s mind tonight and that he forgets everything negative that Tito has ever said about him and remembers how great of a story it would be if the Indians won and that he could be the guy that denied the mighty Cubs their first World Series title since 1908.
Cubs arguing balls & strikes vs cool temparment of Tomlin
Look, if Tomlin didn’t bat an eye at John Hirschbeck’s “strikezone” during his Game 3 start last Friday, there’s absolutely nothing West can do to get under his skin. The entire Indians team is pretty good about keeping their wits about them when calls don’t go their way.
The Cubs hitters aren’t nearly as bad as the Blue Jays, who incredibly have never had three strikes thrown to them in the same at bat in any of their careers, or the Red Sox of the previous two rounds. But Lester and Lackey are both pretty bad on the mound, so maybe that’s worn on the boys in blue a bit, and another frustrating game at the dish for the Cubbies might turn some of those stares into words.
That one…might be grasping at straws.
West calls less strikes than almost every other umpire
This hurts Josh Tomlin, but it hurts Jake Arrieta more.
Tomlin is known for his control, as evidenced by his league-leading 1.03 walks per 9 innings and 2.8 BB%. He gets squeezed and maybe walks 2 or 3 guys.
Arrieta had the 7th worst BB% among qualified pitchers at 9.6%, and the 10th worst BB/9 at 3.47. You’re talking about maybe walking 4 or 5 guys now if he struggles with the strike zone, opening things up for the Tribe to get those couple runs they need for the pen to take it home.
Not that he needs it, but this also favors Andrew Miller over Aroldis Chapman
For the same reasons above, just not as extreme. Miller’s 3.3 BB% was second best among relievers, while Chapman’s 8.1% is slightly below average, but a vast improvement over his career mark of 11.6%.
Cowboy Joe is a musician, musicians live rock-and-roll lifestyles, would enjoy a certain kind of party
Bottom of the 8th, Chapman on the mound, tie game, Mike Napoli walks to the dish, whispers into Joe West’s ear, works the count to 3-0, Chapman grooves a fastball, World Series.
Extend the invite, Mike.
BONUS – Country music star (blech) Hunter Hayes is singing the national anthem tonight. Joe West makes country music. I’ll polish all the apples in the land if it gets us a ring.
NOT SO BONUS – In a September 2012 review, music blog Long After Dark said, “Blue Cowboy (West’s first album) easily ranks with Ron Artest and Carl Lewis as one of the worst albums that a sports figure has cut … ever. I can say that I managed to make it through the record, although it was not easy.”
That last part may or may not have been copied and pasted directly from Wikipedia but I just wrote 1100 words about Joe West. We need to win this damn thing already.
KEEP THE CHIEF