Joe West, historic in his field for both longevity and cantankerousness, is reportedly in the midst of his final season as a major league umpire. This makes some sense, as West is 68 years old, has been working as a full-time umpire since 1978, and is still plenty willing and able to derail a game through malice or incompetence. West’s pending departure was reported by the Boston Globe‘s Pete Abraham the same day West worked home plate for the final Yankees-Red Sox game of the year, a game that had real stakes as both teams are jockeying for the right to host the forthcoming AL Wild Card game. Unfortunately, the famed ump rose to the occasion and made himself the star.
West has always had a somewhat avant-garde relationship with the concept of a “strike zone,” and on Sunday he applied his non-Cartesian logic to hilarious effect. Red Sox starter Eduardo Rodriguez couldn’t even believe his good fortune when West decided he’d rather quit calling the inning instead of awarding a pretty clear ball three.
Misidentifying a clear ball as a third strike with a runner on is bad, though that sort of thing happens to every umpire and can reasonably be forgiven. I mean, this one was pretty bad, too, but let’s not dwell on it.
However, in the eighth inning, another West boo-boo went a long way towards deciding the game. With the Yankees down a run, Aaron Judge stepped to the plate against former Yankee Adam Ottavino. Judge first escaped a sure out when Red Sox first baseman Bobby Dalbec dropped a foul pop-up, then was the beneficiary of some Joe West magic. Ottavino got Judge to foul one off right into Christian Vasquez’s glove, which should have secured the out and would have done so if Vasquez hadn’t dropped the ball on the transfer. This somehow prompted West to rule it as a dropped foul ball, despite pretty clear evidence that Vasquez held onto the foul tip and only let go of the ball during the transfer.
On the very next pitch, Judge smoked a two-run double to the centerfield wall, then two pitches after that, Giancarlo Stanton put the Yankees up three with a monstrous dinger. Even if West hadn’t botched the Judge call, Stanton still would have stepped up with two runners on, so it’s not like his call inarguably lost the game for the Red Sox, though it did go a long way. At least he tried to make up for it with another baffling piece of umpiring one inning later.
Now that West can retire with the all-time games umpired record, maybe he’ll have time to re-evaluate whether or not COVID-19 is real.