Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Joe West's Ejections Have Now Eclipsed His Record Sales

We're only six days into July, and MLB umpire Joe West has his crew on a one-ejection per day pace this month. ESPN's Streak for the Cash game has yet to make West's July ejections a prop bet, but they should. (Suggested over/under: 20.)

West's crew has tossed 17 players, coaches or managers this season, a rate of one every 5.76 days. Four people got run Tuesday night alone, overshadowing a marvelous two-hit shutout by Dan Haren (his 100th career win, to boot). Pitcher Rick Porcello was tossed from a game he wasn't even in because he got lippy from the dugout. Tigers starter Justin Verlander was leaving the game for a reliever when he was, what, he should head for the showers that much faster?

The old saying "absolute power corrupts absolutely" holds a little relevance in the case of umpires like West and his partners Angel Hernandez and Angel Campos. Baseball umpires, perhaps clinging to a bit of the game's rough-and-tumble heritage, are the only officials in any major sport that yell back when someone is giving them the business. When the ump tires of the argument, he can simply excuse the other party from any further participation that evening.

The best part of an ump's job? If anyone dares to piss and moan about an ejection, whether they have a case or not, they're going to pay for it. Meanwhile, the umpiring crew goes back to the hotel, watches a little pay-per-view, and returns to the park the next day, already amped up to see if anyone else wants to test their tolerance.

That noted paragon of patience, Tigers manager Jim Leyland, says something needs to be done. And he's not wrong. Umpires are rarely, if ever, disciplined for unreasonable or excessive ejections in games, nor are they evaluated for any actions of their own that contribute to the angry climate surrounding a particular game.

The best officials are the ones who keep control of a game in an understated, anonymous fashion. "Understated" and "anonymous" are two words that could never be applied to Joe West. Remember, we're dealing with a man who wants to make some extra scratch as a country singer. Any time he gets his name in the paper, it's a bonus. Right, Mark Buehrle?

After all, this is a guy who once tossed TV cameramen out of Shea Stadium for letting the Mets watch a replay. Oh, speaking of which...

Anti-baseball-replay advocates often complain that umpires spending time looking at a video screen will delay the game. Considering that most of these screaming matches take place following some kind of bang-bang play, is it reasonable to ask if a manager respectfully asking "let's go to the videotape" would delay the game less than a vociferous argument? This doesn't even take into consideration the lineup juggling that would take place if a player was tossed, or the time it would take for a reliever to warm up after replacing an ejected pitcher.

Mike Hargrove used to be called "The Human Rain Delay" for his routine at the plate, but West's crew have done more to slow down games this season than David Ortiz home run trots. Good officials try to avoid deciding the outcome of a game, but what does an ejection do if not change the future of that evening's action? Er go, West and his boys aren't exactly good officials. Right, Ozzie Guillen?

I really am waiting for this conversation to occur in the near future:

Joe West: "Hey, did you buy my new album yet?"

Batter: "Nope."


Note to the Cowboy: ejecting half the free world has little effect aside from alienating the CD-buying public. Kinder, gentler umpires sell more country albums. Basic marketing is your friend, Joe.

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