And today, we learn that West is standing by his comments on the two teams, via ESPNBoston:
“I don’t second-guess what I said. And I don’t believe I’m wrong. A lot of people don’t believe I’m wrong. I kind of expected the firestorm I created. But the interview was taken out of context. The first thing I said was that these were two of our best teams, but the pace that they play the game was pathetic and embarrassing. But everybody, especially the New York media, blew it out of proportion and said I was calling the teams pathetic. Some people said I had no right to single them out. I didn’t single them out. I said they were both bad.”
Now, you might be asking a legitimate question: Why is this news? Well, because Joe West is going to be umpiring the Red Sox/Royals series this weekend in Boston. And how do we know that, when MLB doesn’t announce umpiring crews before regular season games? Because Joe West’s Nashville-based publicist tells us so. Indeed, Joe’s publicist brags that he is “one of the most unique individuals in the professional sports world” and “available for media interviews and guest appearances.” Next question: Why does an umpire need a publicist? Because he’s also a country music singer/songwriter. I won’t bother to link to his webpage. You can Google that, if you’re morbidly curious. As Edes points out, it’s believed West is the only umpire with a publicist.
Anyway, in my mind this raises a legitimate ethical issue about whether Joe West, MLB Umpire, and president of the World Umpires Association, has a conflict of interest. Umpires’ salaries are fixed based on service time, as they should be. The promise of extra cash might cause some umps to make certain calls differently. However, publicity definitely helps Wests music career. Indeed, how many of you knew Joe West was a terrible country singer/songwriter before this? West is apparently not shy about seeking this publicity, and the more often he gets mentioned, the more often he and his band can book gigs in the offseason. Indeed, while I would not go so far as to accuse Joe West of being insincere in his beliefs, it’s his willingness and desire to share those impartial beliefs with the media that is problematic. Also, when Joe makes controversial decisions on the baseball field, like decisions to eject managers and players, and takes steps to ensure that the exchanges are heated and drawn out (and will thus appear on highlight shows and be discussed on blogs like this one), we fans are left to wonder whether he is deliberately altering the course of baseball games in order to garner additional publicity for himself and his music career.
Hall of Fame umpire Bill Klem, generally regarded as the greatest umpire in major league history, once said, “The best umpired game is the game in which the fans cannot recall the umpires who worked it.” Joe West apparently doesn’t believe that. And neither does his publicist. Because Joe is not only making himself an active participant in the ball games he works, he is also telling us in advance where he’ll be so that we can come to the park to see him (or book him for one of those interviews or appearances). Bud Selig and Major League Baseball need to make it clear, once again, to Joe West that he needs to stop his grandstanding and instruct his publicist to restrict their announcements to his music career. The two careers need to be kept strictly separate. Baseball, rightfully, banned Pete Rose for life for betting on baseball games, including those his team was playing in. An umpire who may be tempted to place himself and his visibility before the integrity of the game cannot be tolerated. If Joe West can’t see that, he needs to be allowed to focus exclusively on the career that apparently matters to him most. He needs to be ejected.
Update: According to Bruce Levine of ESPNChicago, MLB has announced that there will be an investigation of the incidents at yesterday’s White Sox game. Levine points out, “MLB does not announce disciplinary actions against umpires, although they are common. If umpires receive more than a few reports from umpire supervisors that they didn’t meet standards in the game, it could affect the umpire’s ability to get assignments such as the All-Star Game and playoffs, which are extra paydays. Umpires can be fined and suspended, but those situations are never announced.” So, um, if we don’t hear from Joe West for a while, no news is good news.