Umpire West has had quite the ride to 5K

June 21st, 2017

DENVER -- Joe West was reminiscing about the memorable moments of what Tuesday night became. The 5,000th regular-season Major League game, he has umpired in a career that began back in September 1976.

Moments like 400th home run, and Willie McCovey's 500th.

"Lots of guys today don't know who Willie McCovey was," West said.

There was Nolan Ryan's fifth of seven no-hitters, the no-hitter threw in his second big league start for the Red Sox back on Sept. 1, 2007, and 's perfect game in '12.

Legendary umpire West reaches 5,000th game

"The great thing about this job is you witness a piece of history every day," West said as he got ready for the milestone game as the home-plate umpire for the Rockies' 4-3 victory over the D-backs at Coors Field on Tuesday night.

Like the first ejection of Bud Black's managerial career, back when he was with the San Diego Padres on May 31, 2007, which Black brought up in a discussion of his being the manager for the Rockies for West's milestone game on Tuesday.

"Don't remember," said West, who in 5,000 games has had a lengthy list of ejections.

Black, however, remembered. It was a May 31, 2007 game in Pittsburgh. Padres catcher's Josh Bard hit was called a home run. Bard circled the bases, and put his catching gear back on when then Pirates manager Jim Tracy went out and challenged the ruling, claiming the ball actually hit off the railing on top of the fence and came back into play so it wasn't a home run.

The umpires agreed. West signaled that it was a ground-rule double. After Bard charged out of the dugout in full catching gear right at West, who was near second base, and was quickly ejected, and Black was out of the dugout to challenge the decision.

"I do remember now," said West. "He followed me around the infield until he got kicked out."

Black got ejected. And on Tuesday Black said West got the call right.

"We always do, don't we?" said West with a smile.

West has been a big league umpire longer than any man in history, but he is third on the list in games managed, behind Hall of Famer Bill Klem (5,375) and Bruce Froeming (5,163).

"I have been here more years, but have to realize when Bill Klem worked he didn't have a week off at a time or go to (New York to oversee) replay, those luxuries that the smart union chief got for the umpires now," said West, who now serves as the president of the umpire's union.

But then the game has been a passion for him since his college days, when he was playing football first East Carolina University and later at Elon College.

D-backs coach Jerry Narron said he was "10 or 11" when he first remembers West, who played against Narron's brother Johnny, in high school.

"And when I was 15 I went to a Cincinnati Reds tryout camp and Joe was there, umpiring," said Narron. "I've watched his career."

Narron raised his eyebrows, smiled, and said, "I might be the only guy in baseball who likes him...Seriously, he's one of the best umpires in the game. He has a flare about him, but when he comes to calling balls or strikes or calling safe and out or fair or foul he is focused and does his job."

West appreciated the compliment, but then pointed out he loves his job or he wouldn't still be putting on the gear 41 years after his September 1976 big league debut.

"Mike Gallego asked me one time why I was still umpiring," West said. "He says, 'You can't need the money.' He said, "The travel stinks.' He says, 'Why do you keep doing this?' I said, And give up all the free golf?"

West smiled, and said, "Umpires are real people. You'll understand how much fun they are to be around. It's a close knit fraternity. It's a close-knit group and they pull for each other. They're like the third team on the field."

And West is the senior member of that team. How long has he been around? Well, consider that Coors Field, the Rockies' home, which opened in 1995 hosted its 1,809th game on Tuesday when West was umpiring No. 5,000. Only four current ballparks were even in use when West starting umpiring -- Kauffman Stadium, Dodger Stadium, Wrigley Field and Fenway Park.

And only two of them have hosted more games than West has umpired -- Wrigley (7,915 games) and Fenway (8,133).

"They have been around a long time," said West.

Joe West has been around a long time, too. And he's had a good time along the way.