A.J. Pierzynski came to the plate leading off the second inning Friday.
The Atlanta Braves catcher gave plate ump Joe West a pat on the shoulder and looked into the Blue Jays dugout to see Mark Buehrle.
West smiled, pointed at Pierzynski, at Buehrle and yelled “how ‘bout this trifecta?”
The last time West and Pierzynski were together behind the plate was during spring training. The Atlanta Braves catcher was chirping and West calmly turned towards the Atlanta dugout and said “you need a new catcher.”
West had ejected Pierzynski.
West called a balk on Buehrle then pitching for the Chicago White Sox May 26, 2010 at Cleveland. Later Buehrle threw to first and West called another balk. Buehrle threw his mitt in the air and it sailed too far for him to catch. When it came down he too was ejected (the second of his three career ejections).
Since breaking in Sept. 14, 1976 at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium with Paul Pryor, Art Williams and the legendary John McSherry, West has ejected a player or three.
He has the record for most years umped in the majors, passing Bill Klem andBrucey Froemming. Highlights include working a perfect game by Félix Hernández, Nolan Ryan’s fifth no-hitter, Willie McCovey’s 500th homer,Albert Pujols’ 400th.
West has a memory and he has stories … you’d rather read about the Blue Jays two wins seven games into their homestand maybe?
Like in 1981 he ejected Montreal Expos manager Dick Williams because Williams said something from the dugout at West Palm Beach. It’s highly unusual to see an ejection in the spring.
“West kicked me out because his girl had a bad seat for the game,” Williams explained to reporters after the game.
Williams’ answer was so silly that I don’t even think I wrote it that day.
The real reason?
“The gal I was seeing had been given bad tickets to the game,” West said at the Rogers Centre 34 years later. “(Travelling secretary) Peter Durso came into the ump’s room after screaming at us.”
In 1979 when West was working second. A short passed ball escaped the grasp of Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench. Pittsburgh Pirates’ Phil Garnertook off from first and Reds’ Hall of Famer Joe Morgan told Garner not to slide.
“Bench picks up the ball — no one thought he had a chance to throw Garner out — he makes the throw and the ball beats Garner, but Morgan refused to tag him. So Garner is yelling at Morgan because he told him not to slide. Davey Concepcion and Bench were yelling at Morgan for not tagging Garner.”
West made the safe call. He said the last time in Cincy, Morgan stopped by the ump’s room to discuss the play.
“Morgan was being a pro, he didn’t tag Garner because he told him not to slide,” West said.
Or in the early 1980s he had the plate in the AstroDome. The ball beat the Reds runner but Houston catcher Luis Pujols bobbled the ball. West signalled safe. The Houston dugout, blocked off on the play, went crazy complaining.
“Bench was one funny guy, this Houston fan is barking how I missed the call and John says ‘you leave a pass for that guy?’” West said. “Two innings later, the fan is yelling so loud he loses his voice. Johnny says ‘you finally got him.’”
Once on the NBC Game of the Week plate ump Ed Montague took a foul ball to the neck and had to be replaced by Dutch Rennert.
“Dutch comes out and says to Bench ‘six outs left, I have a chance to work the plate and have a perfect night,’” West said. “Two pitches in, John turns and says ‘Well Dutch, there goes your perfect game.’”
Or the night he was working third at Shea Stadium in 1996 and a New York Mets fan was chirping: “why don’t you like our manager (Dallas Green)? Why are you always yelling at him?”
Replied West: “I yell at my wife too … it doesn’t mean I don’t like her.”
While the veteran arbiter didn’t see Hall of Famers Willie Mays or Roberto Clemente, he says the best position player saw was Cesar Cedeno of the Astros, who did “everything well.”
Best arm? Montreal Expos right fielder Ellis Valentine.
“One night Darrell Evans hits a one-hop single to right … Chris Speier and the whole infield is yelling “FIRST BASE! FIRST BASE!” Valentine throws him out at first. Easy.”
West said that the best hitting team he ever saw was the Big Red Machine and is surprised more aren’t in Cooperstown.
“They called Sparky Anderson Capt. Hook because he was always running in new relievers … he didn’t have any pitching,” West said. “I saw Rick Rhodenat a golf tournament once and he said the Reds were the first to win a World Series without ANY pitching.”
And the best pitcher he ever saw was Hall of Famer Tom Seaver.
“J.R. Richard may have thrown hardest before he got sick and Randy Johnson may have been the best lefty,” West said. “But Seaver was Seaver. He threw all three pitches for strikes. He was Greg Maddux with 10 more MPH velocity.”
West says it’s better now since the American League and National League umpiring crews have merged into one unit.
“They had managers in the AL who got away with stuff — guys like Earl Weaver, Billy Martin and even Dick Williams when he was in the AL,” West said. “It’s tough to umpire when the league president doesn’t have your back.”
West praised former NL bosses Chub Feeney and Warren Giles.
“Then, we had Frank Robinson and now Joe Torre, they’ve been on both sides,” said West.
The first time West walked into the SkyDome was to work the plate of Game 3 as the Jays hosted the Braves in the 1992 World Series as Candy Maldonadowalked off the Jays in a 3-2 win in 10. That was the night Devon White face planted against the centre field wall and started what looked to be a triple play. White caught David Justice‘s drive with Deion Sanders on second and Terry Pendleton on first. White relayed to Roberto Alomar who threw to John Olerud, who fired to Kelly Gruber, who dove and claimed he tagged a diving Sanders returning to second. Ump Bob Davidson called Sanders safe.
West was at third Saturday when Josh Donaldson hit a walk-off homer.
And Sunday afternoon walked into the Rogers Centre to ump second for the finale of the Braves-Jays series, approaching 4,700 career games in the majors.