For generations, baseball fans have lamented over umpires. The men in blue, black or a reasonable combination of both, has stifled fan joy in the most brutal ways possible. They’ve infuriated managers with their brain-dead rulings, unjustly punished players via itchy ejection finger and reminded the world, all too often, that there is a deeply-flawed human element within our beloved pastime. Inconsistent strike zones, ground rule ignorance, asinine punchout theatrics, they’re just a few of the complaints we all have about baseball’s judicial buffoons in slacks.
But one such clown takes the cake (literally the entire cake). He is the king of all things formidably wrong about baseball umpires. He’s taken bad calls and attention-whoring spectacles to an artistic level unmatched by any of his generational contemporaries. He is Joe West, and he is terrible.
So why would any of us be surprised by what happened on Wednesday night? If you happened to miss the first inning of one of the best ALCS games in recent memory, you missed “Country Joe,” at his best (worst). Astros second baseman and grown man able to sleep in a matchbox, Jose Altuve, skied a fly ball to right field. It cleared the wall by a few feet and ended up in the stands. Right-fielder, Mookie Betts, made a great effort to rob the apparent homer, but couldn’t, due to a fan obstructing his glove. Betts was clambering for a review. The Astros were celebrating the game-tying dinger.
Here’s the play.
But don’t worry, everyone. The XXXXL crew chief was there to save the day. West was quick with his decision, calling for fan interference, negating the home run and declaring Altuve out. The black-clad, walking manatee lumbered his way to the infield, expecting A.J. Hinch to challenge the call. Challenge, the Astros did, but overturning West’s original call would be tough. The fan absolutely altered Betts’ ability to make a phenomenal catch but was firmly planted behind the outfield wall’s top edge. To say the fan interfered, “within the field of play,” would be ludicrous. There was no Jeffrey Maier lean over the rail, no spitting sunflower seeds in a player’s face, no conscious effort to disrupt the play.
West beamed through the television, relishing his moment in the spotlight of scrutiny.
After a lengthy review, the boob tube umps in New York made their usual cop-out decision, upholding West’s original call and keeping two runs out of the Astros’ column. Houston would go on to lose the pivotal game four by two runs, 8-6, putting them on the verge of elimination in the series. To say this asinine ump show marred an otherwise brilliant baseball game may be overstating it, but only because we’re so used to it.
Nobody loves umpires. Most merely tolerate them. Some want them replaced with robots, and to be honest, it’s getting harder and harder to argue with such drastic ideas. Season after season, the half-ton of utter worthlessness, Joe West, reminds us of just how bad umpiring can truly be. He takes incompetence to new levels on a game-by-game basis, flouting conventional wisdom and inserting himself into storylines he has no business stinking up. To think he’s ever going to get better is delusional. He is Joe West. He will always be Joe West.
Bring on the robots.