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Joseph Henry West
(Cowboy Joe, Country Joe)
- Height 6' 1", Weight 275 lb.
- School Elon College
Joe West is a noted umpire who began his career in the National League. After a star career as a college quarterback, West made his major league umpiring debut on September 13, 1976 after just three minor league seasons. In 1981, he became the youngest umpire to work a League Championship Series. It was the first of many postseason appearances for West.
In the 1990s, West created somewhat of a firestorm after he ejected Von Hayes from a game after Hayes criticized the home plate umpire to the first base coach. He has a reputation for having a fiery temper and has been criticized many times for showing up players and managers and for escalating budding confrontations. His critics allege that he likes too much to be the center of attention.
West lost his job in 1999 in the ill-advised resignation of many umpires. He returned to the field in 2002, with back pay for the missed seasons, after a settlement was reached. He later became president of the World Umpires Association, which was formed as a result of that fiasco.
West's career came full circle when he worked the plate for the first game of the 2005 World Series. The twenty-eight-year veteran was also named crew chief for the Series. He had previously worked the 1992 and 1997 Fall Classics, and returned again in 2009 and 2012.
On September 14, 2014 he ejected Philadelphia Phillies reliever Jonathan Papelbon from a game after Papelbon had made an inappropriate gesture towards the crowd that was booing him. Papelbon was suspended for seven games, but West also received a one-game suspension from the Commissioner's office, as he had inflamed a tense situation by grabbing the pitcher's jersey. Papelbon had stated that the two had had a history of run-ins and that the umpire had allowed his personal feelings get in the way of his professional judgment, an allegation which the Commissioner's sentence confirmed to an extent.
On June 20, 2017, he umpired his 5,000th major league game, becoming the third umpire in history to reach the milestone, after Bill Klem and Bruce Froemming. He had worked more seasons than any other umpire - 40 - and was also second all-time in postseason games (123), behind only Gerry Davis. Shortly after that game, on June 30th, he was involved in a strange incident when, umpiring a game at first base in Miller Park, he was hit in the back of the neck by a baseball thrown from the stands. He was not seriously hurt. He was named to work home plate at the 2017 All-Star Game, no doubt in recognition of the historic milestone he had just passed. During the game, he was involved in a funny incident as Nelson Cruz stepped up to home plate in the middle of the game with a smart phone in his back pocket and proceeded to have C Yadier Molina snap a picture of him with the veteran uimpire. West cracked a rare in-game smile on that occasion. A month later, however, he was handed a three-game suispension for making public remarks about Adrian Beltre: he had been asked who was the biggest complainer in the majors, and he said: "It's got to be Adrian Beltre. Every pitch you call that's a strike, he says, 'Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!' [...] I told him, ‘You may be a great ballplayer, but you’re the worst umpire in the league. You stink.’" While this was clearly meant in jest, MLB was not amused, as it gave the "appearance of a lack of impartiality." The World Umpires Association protested that this was clearly an over-reaction, as the words were just part of the normal banter that goes on during games, but West accepted the suspension without raising a huge fuss.
He patented a type of chest protector that was later adopted by most MLB umpires. Additionally he writes country music and once sang at the Grand Ole Opry.
- Paul Hagen: "Legendary umpire West to ump 5,000th game: 'Cowboy' to become just third to reach historic milestone", mlb.com, June 20, 2017. 
- Bob Nightengale: "Legendary umpire Joe West dishes on players, managers and replay at 5,000th game", USA Today Sports, June 20, 2017.